Locally Situated Networks: Contextualizing Place-Based Neoliberalism (Day 5)
This funding provided by The Learning Coalition to the Hawai‘i Institute for Public Affairs (HIPA) to privatize land use has been substantial. In 2009, TLC gave HIPA $100,000.00, in 2010 the amount increased to $273,700.00, and in 2013, TLC gave HIPA an additional $75,000.00 (The Learning Coalition). The stated purpose of this funding was to enable HIPA to “examine solutions and establish a stakeholder group to guide the project, which resulted in proposed legislation (HB1385) to reform land use and facilities for public schools” (TLC). In a presentation to interested parties in January 2012, the public policy advocates at HIPA discussed first “How to Leverage Public Lands,” by utilizing vacant or underutilized lands, allowing for the joint use of parcels, long-term leases, land swaps, and use of public school lands for “commercial, residential, public or other purposes that are compatible with school and community activities” (“21st Century Schools”).
The strategic approach to legal and policy reform advocated by the group involves multiple steps, beginning with the creation of public school land trust, the formation of new commission (with a real estate background) to engage public-private partnerships on school lands, the transfer of school lands into the trust, so that revenues that are generated go into the land trust, with the proceeds used to build 21st century schools. This strategic approach utilizes real estate and development professionals, and those who are overseeing the process would be empowered to use a multiplicity of long-term financing mechanisms, including all available public and private revenue and debt financing tools, the monetization of annual CIP and other revenue for issuance of large scale municipal bonds, leveraging vacant and underutilized lands, providing developers with incentives to build, maintain, and manage facilities over extended period of time, and creating joint development agreements to share the costs of school and community facilities, tax credits and business incentives. The partners invited to work on this radical reconfiguration of public land use included the HIDOE, the Council for Educational Facility Planners, the Urban Land Institute, the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i, HSTA, Good Beginnings Alliance, and Concordia LLC.
Concordia LLC, located in New Orleans, LA, and financially supported with separate funding by The Learning Coalition, is critical in this strategy formulation. Following Hurricane Katrina they “were tasked, by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, with assembling and facilitating an interdisciplinary team of local and national urban planners, architects, and community organizers to deliver what came to be known as the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP)” (“Philosophy: Concordia”). This company acted as one of the leading entrepreneurs in what Naomi Klein described as ‘disaster capitalism,’ developing ten district plans and one citywide redevelopment plan in less than five months, and has been heavily involved in the appropriation of public lands for private purposes and gentrification of urban areas throughout New Orleans. Their work with the Recovery School District after Hurricane Katrina to develop a city wide School Facilities Master Plan ironically received a national “Game Changer” award from Metropolis Magazine, because it so radically altered the political vocabulary of the possible in public-private partnerships in land use (Ibid).
The controversy over this 21st Century Schools legislation was muted by the furor over the related and equally egregious ‘public-private partnership’ approved under the Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC) legislation of 2012. The public uproar over the PLDC in the 2013 session led to its repeal, but also diverted public attention from the same strategies being used to privatize the public domain with the 21st Century Schools legislation.
The venture philanthropy apparent in Hawai‘i is modeled on venture capital and
the investments in the technology boom of the 1990s. Its leaders, those who have moved easily from the corporate to the non-profit sector, not only push privatization and deregulation, the most significant policy dictates of neoliberalism, but also insinuate neoliberal language and rationales further into the policy discussion about public education, making the use of business terms to describe educational reforms and policies (choice, competition, efficiency, accountability, monopoly, turnaround and failure) increasingly central. These venture philanthropists in Hawai‘i treat ‘giving’ to public education as a “social investment” that, like venture capital, must begin with a business plan, involve quantitative measurement of efficacy, be replicable so that it can be “brought into scale,” and ideally “leverage” public spending in ways compatible with the strategic donor. Grants are referred to as “investments,” donors are “investors,” impact is renamed “social return,” evaluation becomes “performance measurement,” grant- reviewing turns into “due diligence,” grant list is renamed an “investment portfolio,” charter networks are referred to as “franchises” – but most important is way in which public and civic purposes of public education are rearticulated by venture philanthropists in distinctly private ways. The public and civic roles of public education are completely overtaken by economistic neoliberal perspective that views public schooling principally as a matter of producing workers and consumers for the economy and for global economic competition. These organizations coordinate the privatization of schooling and housing and gentrify coveted sections of key urban and rural areas. They aggressively seek to reimagine teacher education through online and onsite initiatives and educational leadership on the model of the MBA. The seed money that underfunded schools desperately seek allows venture philanthropists to “leverage” influence over educational policy and planning, curriculum and instructional practices, and influence the very idea of what it means to be an educated person (Saltman). However, the networks and nodes of intense neoliberal interaction and policy visioning and enactment that are described above can also said to be characteristic of a contemporary form of neoliberal governmentality, in which “the philanthropic “gift” both obligates its recipients to participate in the ideological projects of the givers and obscures the incursion of market principles into education behind a veneer of progressive activism” (Mitchell; Saltman).