As the parent of a public school student and a citizen of Philadelphia, I arrived at Council Chambers today to convey my concern about Superintendent William Hite’s involvement with former Governor Tom Ridge’s merchant banking advisory firm Ridge-Lane, LP and to get it on the record. Full list of team members viewable as a PDF here.
I have serious reservations about how the city plans to finance the operation of our district, especially given the substantial needs of our students and the disinvestment our schools have suffered for so many years. This important work must be done with PUBLIC funding. Our schools are not charities and should not be remade as investment opportunities for venture capital.
I was the third speaker to present testimony on the proposed budget as it pertains to public education. Official video available here. City Council members in attendance at the time I spoke included: Council President Darrell Clarke, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Jannie Blackwell, Bill Greenlee, Allan Domb, and Bobby Henon. We were limited to three minutes, so the testimony I prepared had to be condensed somewhat. The full piece, including important information about the Fels Policy Research Initiative, can be read below.
“Ridge-Lane, Limited Partners is a merchant bank founded by former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge and R. Brad Lane, which “specializes in corporate strategy and venture development for private growth-stage technology companies.” Its website claims it is at the “apex of public and private sectors,” with over fifty well-connected advisors to broker corporate-government deals in information technology, sustainability, real estate, and education.
According to their website, Superintendent William Hite is one of Ridge-Lane’s senior education advisors. If Dr. Hite is setting public education policy while serving as an advisor to a powerful merchant bank, it is a serious conflict of interest and must be immediately addressed. It certainly makes interventions like the one taking place, against the will of the community, at Strawberry Mansion High School suspect.
It is a special concern that Ridge-Lane’s business model follows that of the social impact, “what works,” triple-bottom line venture capital machine.
- It is a machine whose profit opportunities are fueled by austerity and public under-funding, allowing it to cloak financial speculation in social justice rhetoric.
- It is a machine that breaks into public systems, so they can be remade for private profit.
- It is a machine that views poverty management as a profitable and sustainable investment.
The business model Ridge Lane advances is a threat to community control of public education. If Philadelphia adopts a “Pay for Success,” approach to education finance:
- digital devices will increasingly automate instruction;
- online learning management systems will supplant face time with teachers and peers;
- algorithms will track, discipline, and profile black and brown students; and
- a majority of children will be callously managed as human capital for the gig economy.
Public-private partnerships may appear fiscally prudent, but laying out narrow metrics of “success” will limit educational offerings to those that service the needs of the contracts. This approach requires instruction be reverse engineered to generate the data needed to assess “impact.” In this way “Pay for Success” makes data-mining children a central focus-not relationships or care, not knowledge or humanity.
(Click here to watch “Gambling With Our Futures,” a 10-minute video that describes the origins of social impact finance with former UPenn president Judith Rodin and the Rockefeller Foundation and how data-mining is central to “innovative” finance.)
Does Mayor Kenney have PUBLIC funding to ensure ALL children have access to a healthy, safe school with adequate staff and supplies? Does City Council? No? Well, perhaps this is why our schools have been brought back under mayoral control. Do venture capitalists from Investors’ Circle, ImpactPHL and Social Capital Markets see dollar signs in our children’s trauma and crumbling buildings?
With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, predatory investors are poised to benefit from Pennsylvania’s systematic disinvestment in our school district. Merchant banks like Ridge Lane can package education-technology, social-emotional training, wrap-around services, and energy upgrades as social impact bonds. Voila! Private profit can be extracted from the public trust, from our children.
In the past few months I have attended workshops hosted by the Fels Policy Research Initiative.
- There have been discussions about creating a new operating system for government.
- There have been discussions about unlocking “value” from the public sector.
- There have been discussions about philanthropies underwriting research on “innovative” school models; research the public is not allowed to know about.
New models of “Big Data” government are being pitched, models that will ultimately serve Ridge Lane’s clients, not the people. I am here to testify that the people say no to self-dealing and Pay for Success; to data-driven education and poverty mining; to using children as vehicles for financial speculation and to Third Way public-private partnerships.
Fund our schools with PUBLIC money, secure PILOTs, and restructure the property tax abatements. Ensure corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and investigate Dr. Hite’s relationship to Ridge-Lane Limited Partners.