Could it be those free trips to Turkey for key legislators?

One of the curious aspects of the charter movement, beloved by both Republicans and the Obama administration, is the growth of Gulen charter schools. These are schools associated with a reclusive Turkish imam named Fetullah Gulen who lives in the Poconos but leads a vigorous political movement in Turkey. The Gulen schools have a board of directors composed typically of Turkish men, and most of their teachers are Turkish immigrants.

The Gulen charters are the nation’s largest charter chain. Texas has the largest number of Gulen charters.

As the Akron Beacon-Journal reports in a story by Doug Livingston, “Ohio taxpayers provide jobs to Turkish immigrants through charter schools.” The state has 19 Gulen charters. Some powerful state politicians have traveled to Turkey, and they return as supporters of Gulen charters. Gulen charters have innocuous names that do not reflect their ties to Turkey.

Livingston writes:

“A chain of 19 publicly funded Ohio charter schools, founded by Turkish immigrants, is taking the position that the United States lacks a qualified pool of math and science teachers and is importing perhaps hundreds of Turks to fill the void.

“The schools are run almost exclusively by persons of Turkish heritage, some of whom are not U.S. citizens — a new twist in Ohio’s controversial charter-school movement.

“In addition, the Horizon and Noble academies, run by Chicago-based Concept Schools, are related through membership, fundraisers and political giving to the nonprofit Niagara Foundation, which provides trips to Turkey for state, local and federal lawmakers.

“Among those touring Turkey has been State Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, a Clarksville Republican on the powerful finance and appropriations committee and considered to be a leading candidate for House speaker next year. He was joined on the trip by at least four other state legislators and local government leaders from his area in southwest Ohio….

“However, as early as 2002, state audits found thousands of public dollars “illegally expended” to finance the U.S. citizenship process for Turkish employees — some fresh out of college with no classroom experience and broken English. Help with legal and immigration fees also extended to their children and families, including the spouses of directors.

“The auditor also cited suspect wire transfers, totaling $36,000, and checks made out to “cash” to repay personal loans issued by individuals in Istanbul, Turkey.

“Three of the Ohio schools have been visited by the FBI as part of a multistate probe. The agency said it is part of a white-collar criminal investigation.

“Federal agents have not disclosed details, only that the investigation originated in Cleveland, has spread to Indiana and Illinois, and may or may not be connected to previous investigations at related schools in Baton Rouge, La., and Philadelphia.
Last school year, these Ohio charter schools, called Horizon and Noble Academies, received nearly $50 million in public funding transferred from local school districts where students otherwise would have attended.

“At $50 million, Concept is among the larger players in Ohio’s charter-school movement, totaling $914 million last year. For years, charter schools have come under fire for poor academic performance and questionable finances…..

“Last school year, Ohio’s Turkish-run schools — which offer the Turkish language and promote themselves as specialized in math and science — enrolled more than 6,700 students.

“In Cleveland alone, $12 million was transferred from the municipal school district to Concept schools. Academies also exist in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Euclid, Toledo and Youngstown.

“According to the Ohio Department of Education, the academies’ performance on state tests varies widely from school to school and year to year. In 2013, 12 received D’s, four C’s and three B’s….Former employees allege that Turkish employees generally are paid more than U.S.-born teachers, then asked to contribute as much as 40 percent of their pay to an Islam-based religious movement known as Hizmet that supports interfaith dialog.”

To learn more about the Gulen charter, read Sharon Higgins report on Valerie Strauss’s blog.

For a guide to the Gulen charter movement, read here. For a state-by-state listing of Gulen-connected charter schools, see this list compiled by Sharon Higgins.