Accountability Gulen Charter Schools

Jersey Jazzman: What We DON’T KNOW about Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen Network

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Jersey Jazzman has pulled together many of the questions that have been raised about the Gulen network of charter schools.

We know that there are many of them, at least 160. That makes it the second largest chain in the nation, behind KIPP.

We know that Gulen charter schools typically deny that they are part of the Gulen network, even though their board is composed primarily of Turkish men, and many if not most of their staff is Turkish.

We know that they operate in many states under different names. In California, they are the Magnolia Science Academy charter schools. In Arkansas, they are LISA Academies. In Indiana, they are the Indiana Math & Science Academies. In Nevada, they are CORAL Academies of Math & Science. In Ohio, they are the Horizon Science Academies, also the Noble Academies. In Texas, they are the Horizon Science Academies. In these and other states, they operate under more than one name. To see the complete list of current Gulen charter schools, read Sharon Higgins’ blog here.

We know that a number of them have been raided by the FBI and that questions have been raised about their awarding contracts to Turkish contractors, even when they were not the low bidder.

We know that they are not financially transparent.

JJ writes:

Look, I won’t pretend we haven’t had problems — in some cases, big problems — with fiscal opacity in public district schools. But charter schools, because they are not state actors, are not subject to the same standards of transparency as public district schools. Once the money flows past the non-profit shell of a charter school and to its aligned management organization or property lease holder, all bets are off.

We are now seeing a very real and very serious consequence of this lack of transparency. It’s not at all an exaggeration to say our national security interests may have been compromised by allowing this network to flourish within our borders — and, again, for what?

It’s well past time to clean up the charter school sector. Standards of transparency and accountability have got to become much tougher. Americans have every right to know who, exactly, is running their schools and under what circumstances. If the Turkish coup and the growth of Gulen-linked charter schools teaches us anything, it’s that the consequences for not properly regulating the charter sector are potentially serious and far-ranging.

One more thing: I’ve noticed some rumblings on social media that criticism of Gulen-linked charter schools might be motivated by Islamophobia. I obviously can’t speak for every critic, but that strikes me as far too facile. The problem with Gulen-linked charter schools isn’t about the particular religion Hizmet subscribes to; its about the total lack of transparency in these schools’ management.

I have often posed the question on this blog about the wisdom of outsourcing American public schools to foreign nationals. The reason I ask this question is that the primary purpose of public schools–the reason they receive public funding–is to teach American citizenship. If they are controlled by citizens of Russia or France or Turkey or Venezuela or any other country, they are not qualified to teach American citizenship. Certainly, any country or any group of foreign citizens that wishes to open a school is welcome to do so, but they should not be funded by taxpayers. They should be private schools, free to teach the customs and laws of their country. The Gulen movement operates schools around the world, but the U.S. is the only nation that underwrites them with public funds. Why? Is it because the Gulenists have showered legislators with all-expense paid trips to Turkey?

As to the question of Islamophobia: I recently was invited to meet Robert Amsterdam, the D.C. lawyer who was hired by the Turkish government to investigate Fethullah Gulen’s activities in the United States. He is knowledgable about the Gulen schools and believes they are a source of funding for Gulen’s political activities in Turkey. He has met with numerous whistle-blowers. I don’t know whether or not that is true, but the U.S. government should be asking these questions.

I asked Mr. Amsterdam how he responds to the charge that critics of Fethullah Gulen are expressing Islamophobia. He laughed and said, “I am a lawyer. I was hired by the Turkish government. I am investigating Gulen on its behalf. The Turkish government is Islamic. How can anyone reasonably claim that the Turkish government is Islamophobic? That is absurd on its face.”

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