Archives for category: Gulen Charter Schools

A federal investigation of Gulen charters in Illinois concluded with a large fine. Gulen charters are associated with the Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. Gulen charter schools can be recognized by the dominant presence of Turkish people in the board and the staff. In the past, they have been criticized for steering contracts to Turkish-owned firms, regardless of whether they are the low bidder.

The article, written by veteran reporters Dan Mihapoulos and Sarah Karp, describes the conclusion of a lengthy federal investigation.

A politically connected charter school chain based in the Chicago area has agreed to pay $4.5 million to end a long-running federal corruption investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Concept Schools Inc. — which has four publicly-financed campuses in Chicago and dozens of other charter schools in the Midwest — allegedly engaged in a bid-rigging scheme to steer federally funded technology contracts to insiders.

The costly, civil settlement with the government comes more than six years after federal agents raided the charter operator’s northwest suburban offices and other sites connected to Concept in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

In a statement this week, the Justice Department alleged Concept officials violated the federal False Claims Act “by engaging in non-competitive bidding practices” when they awarded contracts funded with taxpayer dollars from the government’s E-rate program. Through the program, the government subsidizes internet access at “needy public schools,” officials said.

“Today’s settlement demonstrates our continuing vigilance to ensure that those doing business with the government do not engage in anticompetitive conduct,” said Jeffrey Bossert, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Government contractors and schools that seek to profit at the expense of taxpayers will face serious consequences.”

Concept has denied wrongdoing. The nonprofit organization is based in Schaumburg and runs 30 taxpayer-financed charter schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio.

Documents show all of Concept’s revenues come from managing taxpayer-funded schools.

Chicago Public Schools officials — who approved and oversee two Concept campuses in the city — are set to provide about $17 million for those schools this year. The two other Concept-run schools in Chicago are regulated by the state, which is giving them another $22 million for the current year.

The four schools in Chicago, in turn, pay a total of $3.8 million a year to Concept in management fees, records show...

The federal corruption probe came into public view in June 2014, when agents raided Concept’s headquarters at the time in Des Plaines and the Chicago Math and Science Academy, in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

Court records show authorities launched the raids because they suspected a long-running “scheme to defraud a federal program.” The feds said at the time that Concept funneled about $5 million in federal grant funds to insiders and “away from the charter schools,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

In announcing the settlement, the Justice Department accused Concept of giving its E-rate business to “chosen vendors without a meaningful, fair and open bidding process” and alleged the charter operator paid those vendors “higher prices than those approved by the [federal government] for equipment with the same functionality.”

And some of the equipment the federal government paid Concept for was “discovered missing,” the Justice Department said.

But in a statement last week, Concept officials sought to portray the settlement as an exoneration, because the probe did not result in criminal charges. They pointed out that in its press release on the settlement, the Justice Department said the “claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability…”

Concept officials also said they had been the subject of unfair allegations of wrongdoing from “foreign actors.” Although the statement from the charter operator did not specify what foreign critics they were referring to, the charter chain run by Turkish immigrants has faced criticism from the government of their homeland for several years.

In a civil case in federal court in Chicago in August, the Turkish government sought information about Concept and a long list of “relevant individuals and entities.”

Turkey says Concept and other charter school networks across the U.S. “were created to siphon public, taxpayer funds away from the education of children in order to finance the international political activities of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric residing in the State of Pennsylvania.”

Gulen once was a staunch supporter of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the two men have become bitter enemies, with Erdogan pressing the U.S. to extradite Gulen. Erdogan has accused Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup against him in 2016.

According to the court filing here, Turkey “has initiated an investigation within its own borders to determine whether the proceeds derived from these illegal activities in the United States are being unlawfully transported and transmitted to individuals in Turkey in violation of Turkish criminal law, including international money laundering and fraud…”

Concept also has connections to one of the most powerful politicians in Illinois — state House Speaker and Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan of Chicago…

The speaker, his wife Shirley and other Madigan allies repeatedly travelled in Turkey as guests of a Gulen-led foundation and other Turkish groups in Chicago.

According to economic-interest statements he filed with the state, Michael Madigan made four trips to Turkey from 2009 through 2012 — before Gulen fell out with Erdogan.

This is a longer version of same article with details about Missouri Gulen schools.

The Texas State Board of Education inexplicably approved another Gulen charter chain—this one deceptively called “Royal Public Schools—though the only thing public about it is its name. Its leader is one Sonar Tarim, who tried and failed to open a charter in Alabama, and who was rejected in Nevada when he tried to open a charter chain there. All Gulen schools are connected with the reclusive Imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. To learn more about Gulen schools, read this piece from the Washington Post written by Sharon Higgins, independent researcher. Also, see Mark Hall’s documentary “Killing Ed,” which is available online.

Like all Gulen schools, the boards and staff will be dominated by Turkish men and most contracts are likely to be directed to Turkish-owned firms. The New York Times reported on a pervasive practice by Gulen charter schools in Texas and in Georgia of directing contracts to Turkish firms.

Pastors for Texas Children opposed charter expansion, arguing that this was not the time to divert money from the state’s underfunded public schools.

PTC believes that in a time of economic fragility, when resources are scarce, approving the use of public funds for new schools is irresponsible. Although the board took no action on five of these new charter schools, we are grateful for their veto on three of them.

Pastors for Texas Children advocated against the approval of Rocketship Charter Schools, which applied to open new schools in the Fort Worth area. The board vetoed Rocketship. We also advocated against the approval of Royal Charter Schools, but the board approved them. The south and central San Antonio community overwhelmingly opposes Royal but, unfortunately, their testimonies went unheard.

South San Antonio Parents submitted a petition against Royal but it was ignored, and there was not enough time to allow them to testify.

A witness submitted testimony based on his personal experience. All to no avail.

Testimony of Walt Sims before the
State Board of Education Austin, TX
Thursday, September 10, 2020

Concerning: COFB Item 1. Consideration of the Commissioner of Education’s Generation 25 Open-Enrollment Charter School Proposals

Stance: I am against the approval of the Royal Public School charter

Howdy. My name is Walt Sims and I would like to oppose the new Royal Public School charter and read my testimony concerning the Gulen Movement as an American who spent over a decade amongst them. From everything I know and have witnessed, I firmly believe Soner Tarim is a member of this organization.

As for me, I am a Texan. I attended TX Boy’s State, high school in Tyler, and Texas A&M University. It was at A&M that I first came into contact with the Gulen Movement through their misleading Turkish Language and Culture programs on campus. Through a series of events, I have spent the last 12 years observing the Gulen Movement at its epicenter in Turkey. Over the years, I have been close to many members of this organization, including a fiancée, and I was both an educator as well as a graduate student in a MA & PhD program at their flagship university in Istanbul (Fatih University). It was through these varying relationships that I gained access to see how this religious organization from Turkey uses the education field to pursue power; not education.
Some problems I witnessed were:

*The lobbying of individuals (in many instances, illegal) in US politics, military, journalism, diplomacy and academics;

*Their use of the Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine to spy on, marginalize and discriminate against non- Muslims & minorities outside of the organization (violating laws and regulations wherever they went)

*The creation of a male dominated organizational structure where select groups are prioritized and dissent isn’t tolerated, and leads to blacklisting, harassment and threats;

*The indoctrination of individuals of all ages inside the residences and after-school programs (and through cultural exchanges) with their religious propaganda;

*The targeting & infiltration of the judiciary, media and law enforcement of Turkey through the use of graduates from their educational pipeline.

And to be 100% clear: when I first went to Istanbul, I had no desire for the truth to turn out as it did, for it has been an agonizing process. My proximity in observing this organization for so long was such that recently, even the Turkish government secretly arrested & incarcerated me for several weeks denying due process or basic rights, attempting to charge me as a foreign member of this organization (which they deem a terrorist organization).

I want my many years of sacrifice to make one thing clear: I followed the truth and the facts as they were, and had no horse in this other than the truth to protect Texans from what is being deceptively hidden from them. It is because of this, I have been writing to state and federal authorities, including Governor Abbott and the SBOE, ever since early 2011 to shed light on exactly who the Gulen Movement is at their core and how they are targeting Texas.

Therefore, I would strongly encourage the SBOE to oppose any educational institution affiliated in any way with the Gulen Movement or its members, including Royal Public School.

My opposition is not against charter schools in general, but specifically about those educational institutions that operate in conjunction with and in harmony with the Gulen Movement’s members.

Thank you,

-Walt Sims
8600 N Fm 620 Rd. 
 Austin, TX 77826 979-820-3508

The Texas State Board of Education approved applications from five charter chains, including the Gulen chain (Royal Public Schools) operated by Soner Tarim, who was compelled to leave Alabama because of community protests. It rejected three charter chains, including Rocketship, whose “pedagogy” puts children on computers for half the day, overseen by inexperienced and low-wage teachers.

Among those approved were the Florida-based Doral chain, operated by the for-profit Academica corporate giant. Learn4Life is a California-based chain of drop-in centers with high attrition rates and low graduation rates.

Heritage Classical Academy, CLEAR Public Charter School and Rocketship Public Schools will not be able to open schools in Texas, after traditional public school usleaders and advocates argued the state could not afford to fund new charters during a destabilizing pandemic. The board’s actions are just the latest in a longstanding political debate in Texas over the growth of charter schools, funded by the state but managed privately by nonprofits.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath recommended the eight charter operators at the end of an in-depth process, including mandatory public meetings in target communities and interviews with state officials. The other five —Brillante Academy, Doral Academy of Texas, Learn4Life-Austin, Prelude Preparatory Charter School and Royal Public Schools — will be allowed to open schools next academic year, unless Morath or the board takes further action within the next 90 days…

Texas is one of the largest charter authorizers in the country, with 171 charter districts in operation as of June. Texas caps the number of charter operators, but doesn’t cap the number of schools each operator can open.

Charter opponents warned that the expansion of charter chains would drain badly needed funding from the state’s underfunded public schools, but the state commissioner of education Mike Morath (a software executive, not an educator) supported all the applications and promised that the charters would introduce much-needed innovation.

Never mind that charters in Texas and elsewhere are not noted for any innovations, other than “no-excuses” discipline. Never mind that the critics are right: the funding for the charters will decrease the money available to the state’s real public schools.

Texas seems to have a special affinity for Gulen charters, which are typically managed and staffed by Turkish men who are connected to the Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania.

The Alabama Charter School
Commission decided to revoke the charter of Woodland Prep, which had not yet opened.

Blogger Larry Lee has the inside scoop.

He wrote:

In the end, it was as much a story about a very rural community that simply refused to quit fighting and standing up for what it believed in strongly. It was about a community that takes pride in its public schools and refused to be bulldozed by a group of education “experts” from out-of-state who were far more intent on making money than helping children.

It was widely believed that the charter was part of the Fetullah Gulen charter chain, one of the nation’s largest. For unexplained reasons, the charter decided to open in a small rural community where sentiment ran against it, commitment to the local public schools is strong, and local people look askance at Muslims (and possibly other religions).

Larry Lee wrote many posts about Woodland Prep. See here and here.

It is really dumb and insensitive for out-of-state people to plant themselves in a rural community, announce that they intend to open a school to compete with the local school and expect to be welcomed.

Oklahoma has just experienced a fraud involving an online charter school called EPIC, which was accused of collecting money for ghost students and billing for excessive administrative overhead. It’s amazing how many of the big scandals in charter land involve the highly profitable online charters.

Now parents in Oklahoma are outraged that a new virtual charter obtained the names and addresses of their children. The charter is aligned to the Gulen movement.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has promised get to the bottom of this breach of student privacy.

The controversial Woodlands Prep Charter School, led by Gulenist Sonar Tarim, is in deep trouble.

Larry Lee reports that the proposed school is seeking yet another extension, and the charter commission is running out of patience.

For some reason, the charter operator decided that a small rural community was the ideal place for a new charter, but the local community was outraged.

Tarim may have to find a state that is more hospitable to charter schools or a different district where the local residents have no voice.

Andy Spears, editor of the Tennessee Education Report, says that Tennessee should learn from Alabama’s mistakes when authorizing charter schools.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee wants to disrupt public schools and throw open the public treasury to anyone who wants to open a charter school. He wants charters to open without the approval of local school districts, a recipe for disruption and an attack on local control.

Andy Spears writes:

Look to Alabama to see what happens.

Here’s more from the Alabama Political Reporter:

Woodland Prep is a charter school horror story — and it hasn’t even been built yet.

Located in rural Washington County, Woodland Prep, which will open as a K-7 school this fall and add a grade level each year, is everything state leaders assured us could never happen under Alabama’s charter school laws.

Its land is owned by a shady Utah holding company. Its building is owned by a for-profit Arizona company. It will be managed by a for-profit Texas company that doesn’t employ a single Alabamian. It will pay the head of that management company around $300,000 per year — up front. Its application was rejected by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which Alabama pays a hefty sum to review and approve charter applications. Woodland’s management plan failed to meet basic standards for approval in any of the three plan areas reviewed by NACSA.

In spite of all of those concerns, Woodland Prep was approved by the Alabama Charter School Commission — a board similar to the one envisioned by Lee and his legislative supporters for authorizing charters in Tennessee.

Governor Lee is following orders from ALEC and Betsy DeVos. He does not have the best interests of the children of Tennessee at heart.



For some reason, the Gulen charter chain thought that it would be a good idea to open a charter in a rural county in Alabama. Residents of Washington County were outraged, and the charter didn’t enroll enough students to open. The state charter commission asked no questions of Soner Tarim, the leader of Woodland Prep, and gave the school a one-year extension.

But as veteran education writer Larry Lee reports, the commission members changed and now Tarim was asked tough questions about his enrollment and finances and demanded evidence, which he could not supply.

The school is being built by American Charter Development out of Springville, Utah.  Their construction manager was at the meeting.  When Henry Nelson wanted to know why so little progress had been made on the building, this guy told him that it rains a lot in Alabama and that was slowing them down.

Everyone in the room guffawed knowing that Alabama is suffering its worst drought in decades.

(State representative Brett  Easterbrook of Washington County attended the meeting and said to me afterwards, “If you can’t tell the truth about where you live and the weather, how can you believe anything these folks says?” )

Caprice Young is a star of the charter industry in California. She was a member and president of the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District. She was founder of the California Charter Schools Association, the well-heeled lobbyists for the private charter sector, which fights off accountability and transparency with the help of billionaires like Reed Hastings and Eli Broad. She is a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Academy. She led an embattled chain of Gulen charter schools in Los Angeles called Magnolia.

And now she will serve as superintendent of California’s floundering “Learn4Life” Centers.

The press release from Learn4Life says the chain enrolls 20,000 students in California, Ohio, and Michigan, but the Broad Center says it enrolls 40,000, in those states.

The Learn4Life charter schools are basically operated in malls and storefronts. Students drop in once a week to pick up their assignments. The schools collect huge sums from the state for low-quality “education,” if you can call it “education.”

Investigative reporter Will Huntsberry of the Voice of San Diego has written a series of blistering exposes of Learn4Life. See here and here and here.

Carol Burris wrote about the “Learn4Life” Centers in her report called Charters and Consequences.

Bryan Juan was falling behind in high school credits. Desperate to graduate on time, he left his public high school and enrolled in Desert Sands Charter High School. “I started off ok,” he said. “But even though I went almost every day and worked hard, I could not catch up and do all the paper packets—especially on my own. I got discouraged. I left and went back to my public school.”

Bryan was not alone in his failure at Desert Sands. The 2015 four-year graduation rate of the charter was a dismal 11.5%. Even worse, over 42% of the students who should have graduated that year dropped out of school altogether.

Desert Sands Charter High School enrolls nearly 2000 students; almost all are Latino. It is part of the Antelope Valley School District, but you will not find it listed on Antelope’s website. Nor will you find Desert Sands at the Lancaster, California address given on its own website. Bryan’s classroom was located in an office building across from a Walmart, nearly 100 miles away from both Antelope Valley Schools and the Desert Sand’s address.

Desert Sands is one of 15 independent learning center charter schools, which are defined as non-classroom based independent study sites, connected to Learn4Life, a network of schools that claim to provide personalized learning. On its website, Learn4Life tells prospective families that it connects students to resource centers so that they can receive one on one instruction because “no two students are alike.”

Bryan’s classmates, Mayra and Edith, who also returned to the public school from Desert Sands, found their experience at the charter to be anything but “personalized.” They described education at Desert Sands as no more than a continuous cycle of paper packets, optional tutor appointments and tests that students continue to take until they pass.

Three calls to three different Learn4Life charter schools confirmed that the instructional program was driven by paper-packets that students pick up and complete. After packet completion, students take a test to earn credit. Although students can make an appointment for help with the packet, they are required to come by only once a week.

Of the 15 charters authorized to Learn4Life operated corporations, 13 are required to operate high-school grade levels. Each school has its own name, principal
and sponsoring district, but uniqueness ends there. The schools are in reality a web of resource centers sprinkled in office buildings, strip malls and even former liquor stores. They advertise themselves with nearly identical websites with the same pictures, quotes, descriptions of program, principal letters and a common phone number andaddress. The homepage of the Desert Sands High School is indistinguishable from the homepage of Diego Valley, as well as the homepages of 11 other high schools that are part of the chain. All that differs is the name of the school.

Diego Plus is one of the many corporations operated by Learn4Life. Diego Plus and its three Learn4 Life charter schools (Diego Valley, Diego Hills and Diego Springs), are defendants in a lawsuit filed by Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego Unified School District, and Sweetwater Union High School District. The three charters opened their resource centers in the three complaining districts without notifying them. They were authorized by and are the responsibility of the Julian, Dehesa and Borrego Springs school districts, each of which receives considerable income for supervising these charters located far beyond their boundaries.

In total, the three Learn4Life Diego Plus charters enroll almost 2000 students. Their respective four-year 2015 graduation rates are 10.8%, 19.3%, and 0%. 45% of the students in that Diego Valley cohort dropped out of the charter school. It does not appear that long distance supervision of storefront schools is working out well for kids.

Transparency and accountability, as well as legal efforts to force legal compliance, have been stymied and complicated by the continual changes in Learn4Life corporate names and addresses. A recent petition to the court on behalf of the Grossmont Union High School District lists 13 corporate names located at the same Learn4Life address. In 2014, there were no less than eight not-for-profit corporations listed at that Lancaster address that filed tax returns.

Each of those eight corporations received funding from the state of California. During the 2013-14 school year, the sum of all government grants given to those eight related corporations was a whopping $61,476,306. About 11,000 students are enrolled in the 15 Learn4Life schools.

Officers of the Learn4Life corporations play musical chairs with titles, often receiving compensation from several different corporations. For example, Steve Gocke is listed as the Superintendent of Desert Sands Charter. In 2014, Gocke received $139,750 for serving as the secretary for the two different Learn4Life charter schools. Dante Simi served as the CEO of six different Learn4Life related corporations, and the CFO of two others. According to the organizations’ 990s, his
2014 compensation was $270,200. Dante’s son-in-law, Skip Hansen, serves as a Senior Vice President, and received a six- figure salary for his services. Simi’s wife Linda is also listed as a key employee of one of the corporations.

Perhaps all of the above attempts at obfuscation might be forgiven if the schools were actually getting the job done. But they are not. The average 2015 graduation rate for the schools was 13.73%. Two of the schools had graduation rates of 0%. Dropout rates for cohorts ranged from 27.6% to 53.9%.

Are these alarming rates solely a result of serving at-risk students? Although Learn4Life advertises that its mission is to serve students who dropped out or are at risk of dropping out, its schools take students as early as ninth-grade, including those who simply want a quick and easy way to graduate early. There is no requirement for prior failure before entering the schools.

Charter schools associated with the Gulen movement are found in many states. They have many different names, like Magnolia, Harmony, Sonoran and more. There are more than 150 of them. If asked, they always deny that they are Gulen schools. The best source for identifying Gulen schools is the list of names compiled by Oakland parent activist Sharon Higgins. Gulen schools can usually be identified by their unusual number of Turkish teachers and Turkish board members.

Bill Phillis raises a question.

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Fethullah Gulen lives in exile in Saylorsburg PA in a luxurious compound while 151 of his devotees receive life sentences for participating in the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt
For reasons unknown to the public, the U.S. government gave Turkish Islamic leader Fethullah Gulen asylum several years ago. Gulen operates his worldwide religious/political movement from Saylorsburg PA. His movement includes nearly 200 tax-supported charter schools which help fuel a vast business/political/religious enterprise in the U.S.
Gulen was accused by the Turkish government of inspiring (ordering) the 2016 military coup. The U.S. government has rejected the call of Turkey for the extradition of Gulen.
The Gulen charter schools are used to bring thousands of Gulenists into the U.S. on H1B visas.
Although the FBI and other state and federal agencies have raided several Gulen charters (including some in Ohio and the Concept Management company), the reports of the investigations never seem to surface. Gulen is protected by individuals and agencies at the highest level of government. Meanwhile, the Gulen charters in the U.S. continue to “educate” American students in the Gulen political/religious world view.
It would seem that state officials and the sponsors of the Gulen charters—ESC of Lake Erie West and Buckeye Community Hope Foundation—would scrutinize the operation and educational programming of the Gulen charters operating within the borders of the U.S.
William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding ||
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