Sharon Higgins has followed the expansion of the Gulen charter chain for years. The Gulen schools are now the largest charter chain in the nation. They were founded by allies of a reclusive Turkish cleric, Fetullah Gulen, who lives in the Poconos.

She writes:

A political crisis has overtaken the Republic of Turkey. Most Americans don’t know that it has a direct relationship to charter school expansion policies in the US, but it does.

The two most powerful men in Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen – the country’s most powerful religious leader – are involved in a titanic power struggle that will determine Turkey’s future. The two men were close allies until recently. Foreign Policy magazine explained (see “The End of Erdogan?”):

Partners for much of the past decade in the AKP’s [the ruling party] systematic efforts to undermine the foundations of Ataturk’s secular republic and bring the Turkish military to heel, Erdogan and the Gulenists have now turned on each other with a vengeance…

Ivan Watson, CNN’s senior international correspondent based in Istanbul, delivered an excellent report on the situation on December 21st saying “I’ve never seen anything like this in my ten years in Turkey.”

Followers of Fethullah Gulen, also known as the Gulen Movement, operate the largest charter school network in the United States. As the New York Times reported (see “Growing Corruption Inquiry Hits Close to Turkish Leader.”):

“[Gulen] lives quietly in Pennsylvania, though his followers are involved in an array of businesses and organizations in the United States and abroad, and some of them helped start a collection of charter schools in Texas and other states.”

While the first Gulen Movement-associated charter schools opened in 1999 under the Clinton administration, both the Bush and Obama administrations allowed their expansion to flourish. Today, Gulen Movement-operatives run 143 charter schools. They are in the process of attempting to open more than a dozen more next fall, three of which have already been authorized. The Gulen Movement operates schools around the world in many countries with US having the largest number outside of Turkey. Due to our unique charter school laws, the US is the only country where the Gulen Movement has been able to have its schools fully supported by taxpayers.

Gulen charter schools employ a portion of American teachers along with a miniscule number of American administrators, but the Gulenist in-group always controls the finances. As with most charter schools, these schools are subjected to very little oversight so how they truly spend the nearly half-billion dollars per year that is funneled into their pockets is a mystery.

The Gulen Movement is highly skillful at marketing its charter schools, but the reputations that are so cleverly and carefully crafted are misleading. Many of the schools have big problems, for instance the Gulen charter school in Baton Rouge that was raided by the FBI just two weeks ago. (see “Kenilworth charter school, subject of apparent FBI inquiry, has ties to Turkish education movement.”).

That school also once had a “sister” school in New Orleans, but its charter was abruptly revoked in 2011 (see “Abramson Charter in eastern New Orleans shut down amid TP investigation into startling misconduct.”).

At the time, Louisiana Department of Education officials announced that they would be launching an investigation into the Baton Rouge school as well, however nothing has ever been revealed to the public about its status.

Both Louisiana schools had close ties to the large Harmony charter school operator in Texas (also known as the Cosmos Foundation), sharing some Turkish staff members and paying Harmony a percentage of their funding. In June 2011, a major New York Times investigative piece about Harmony exposed an extensive array of shady business practices (see “Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in Texas.”).

Articles about Fethullah Gulen have periodically appeared in US news, but nothing compares to the media attention he’s been given this past week. For instance, an April 2012 New York Times article about Fethullah Gulen contained this comment (see “Turkey Feels Sway of Reclusive Cleric in the U.S.”):

“We are troubled by the secretive nature of the Gulen movement, all the smoke and mirrors,” said a senior American official, who requested anonymity to avoid breaching diplomatic protocol. “It is clear they want influence and power. We are concerned there is a hidden agenda to challenge secular Turkey and guide the country in a more Islamic direction.”

Despite the many concerns, Harmony recently obtained approval to open a new charter school in our nation’s capitol in the fall (“Harmony charter school seeks to expand to D.C.; business practices raised questions.”). Before the DC Public Charter School Board delivered their unanimous vote, they not only engaged in zero meaningful public discussion about Harmony’s known Gulen Movement-affiliation and associated concerns, they demonstrated a profound tolerance for Harmony’s denials.

Enough is enough. For the past 15 years, the US Department of Education has been helping this secretive, powerful, and highly controversial foreign group to rapidly expand its network of charter schools in stealth. Is it not time for our clear-headed elected public officials to insist on transparency and full disclosure from US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan?

Some of the questions for which the public deserves answers:

1. Why isn’t the US Department of Education insisting that these school operators publicly divulge their relationship to the Gulen Movement’s expanding empire of schools around the world?

2. Why does the US Department of Education think it is acceptable for unaware taxpayers to fund the Gulen Movement’s schools in perpetuity?

3. Why hasn’t the House and/or Senate Education Committees held hearings about this matter?

4. Why is our government allowing American schoolchildren to be mixed up in these geopolitical games?

Some reading about the current situation in Turkey:

Fethullah Gulen: Is Islamic Cleric in Self-Exile Behind Turkey’s High-Profile Arrests?” International Business Times UK, 12/19/2013

The Political Future Of Turkey May Be Decided On This Quiet Road In Rural Pennsylvania.” Business Insider Australia, 12/19/2013

Turkey’s House of Cards Moment: Arrests and Scandal Signal a Crisis for Erdogan.” Time World, 12/19/2013

Preacher at the Center of Turkish Political Storm.” ABC News, 12/20/2013

AKP, Gülen set for battle until end: Investigative journalist.” Hurriyet Daily News (TR), 12/20/2013

Turkish prime minister faces biggest threat of his rule.” Reuters, 12/202013

For more information about the Gulen Movement and its charter schools, see these posts on my Perimeter Primate blog.