By Stephanie Kenific May 7, 2020
The author is a high school teacher in New York state.

This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a partnership with the infamous Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to “re-imagine public education after COVID-19.” The governor remarked that “The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom…all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms. Why? With all the technology you have?”

While Governor Cuomo has been hailed as the darling of the Democratic Party and praised for his actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, his recent comments on public education reinforce his antagonistic position towards teachers, students, and parents across the state.

Governor Cuomo has never been a friend to public education. His aggressive expansion of narrowly-focused teacher evaluations, along with his advocacy for charter schools that need not conduct evaluations in the same manner as public schools, are that of a ruling class politician—certainly not a friend of the working class.

Cuomo’s most recent partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation represents yet another attack on public education. The Gates Foundation has promoted neoliberal education reforms worldwide, emphasizing high-stakes testing, school closures, and creation of more charter schools that undermine working-class communities’ autonomy over their children’s education.

This is not the first time the ruling class has used a natural disaster to advance neoliberal education reforms. In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, capitalist investors and state government officials in Louisiana conspired to seize control of New Orleans public schools. What followed was a rapid increase in the number of capitalist-controlled charter schools led by so-called market reforms, namely: high-stakes testing, incentivized pay for teachers, and the subsequent closure of public schools.

The goal of these capitalist takeovers of public education is never in the interest of working-class students or their families. The marketing of school reforms, on the part of ruling class politicians and venture capitalists, is consistently used as a means to undermine and break up teacher unions and community control over public education.

Governor Cuomo’s remarks about “re-imagining” education are just the latest development in a longer history of war on public schools. The idea that education needs to be further removed from public schools and should embrace the idea of individual students isolated in their homes is not only outrageous, but it is completely divorced from the reality of education during COVID-19. Working-class students across the country often have inconsistent access to the Internet and adequate technology to complete their schoolwork; approximately 7 million students in K-12 schools do not have consistent access to the internet. Moreover, public schools certainly have a role beyond “everybody goes and sits in a classroom.” For the most marginalized communities, schools are a student’s only access to healthcare, nutrition, and counseling services. Approximately 30 million students rely on free and reduced lunch at schools, according to Department of Agriculture statistics. Transitioning to distance learning only intensifies the inequalities that working-class students already face. 

We must see this new partnership between New York State and the Gates Foundation for what it is—another attack on students, teachers, and working-class communities in a period of deepening crisis. It is for this reason that the Party for Socialism and Liberation calls for a full funding of public education during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond! We must mobilize and organize the fight for public education in the face of this expanding war on working people.