Saturday, July 30, 2016

Texas Opens Probe Into Gulen Connection to Charter Schools - WSJ

Texas Opens Probe Into Gulen Connection to Charter Schools - WSJ:

Texas Opens Probe Into Gulen Connection to Charter Schools

State Education Agency was prompted by a series of complaints filed on behalf of the Turkish government

DALLAS—The state of Texas has launched an investigation into alleged fiscal improprieties at the state’s largest chain of charter schools.
Behind the probe: charges by the president of Turkey that the schools are part of a $500 million a year front to fund the revolutionary aspirations of a Turkish cleric he claims backed a recent failed coup.
The probe by the Texas Education Agency was prompted by a series of complaints filed by a Washington-based law firm hired late last year by the Turkish government to lead its case against Fethullah Gulen, a political enemy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr. Gulen, who lives in rural Pennsylvania, is on trial in absentia in Turkey on charges related to overthrowing the government. Thousands of Mr. Gulen’s followers in Turkey have been arrested or detained by Mr. Erdogan following the failed coup earlier this month.

Last week, a spokesman for Mr. Gulen denied any connection to the coup and said his goal is nonviolent reform in Turkey.
In a statement Friday, an attorney for Harmony Public Schools—the charter school chain being investigated—denied any wrongdoing.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Robert Schulman. “Registered foreign agents are using the TEA’s complaint mechanisms to malign the largest charter school system in the state of Texas.”
Mr. Erdogan’s lawyers believe there are around 160 charter schools with ties to Mr. Gulen. The attorneys have filed complaints against charter school chains in several states, alleging they funnel money—through tithes by Turkish employees—back to the cleric.
The complaint filed in Texas alleges that Harmony hired Turkish contractors in violation of competitive bidding requirements and have misused bond money guaranteed by the state of Texas to operate charter schools in Arkansas. The complaint also alleges Mr. Gulen is connected to Harmony schools through a vast network of Turkish men who enter the U.S. on H-1B visas and then move between the different charter-school networks, the companies set up to serve them and other organizations with direct affiliations with Mr. Gulen.
In a letter dated Thursday, the Texas Education Agency asked the superintendent of Harmony Public Schools for documents connected to their contracts for the last two years as well as an explanation of whether they spent any bond money in Arkansas.
A spokesman for Harmony schools called the claims preposterous and said the chain “has no affiliation of any kind with any religious or social organizations or movements.”
Harmony educated 31,000 students in Texas across 48 schools and has been in business for almost 20 years, Mr. Schulman said.Texas Opens Probe Into Gulen Connection to Charter Schools - WSJ:
TEA to launch probe of Harmony charter schools - Houston Chronicle - 
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Corrections & Amplifications: 
Fethullah Gulen is the name of a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania. An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled his first name. Mr. Gulen is on trial in Turkey on charges related to overthrowing the government. An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated he had been found guilty.
AUSTIN – The Texas Education Agency wants to dig into records of Harmony Public Schools following complaints the state's largest charter school operator has funneled contracts to Turkish-owned vendors who have ties to the organization's leadership.
The state agency also wants to explore whether the 31,000-student charter school system has misused federal and state funds after Harmony allegedly guaranteed a $1.9 million bond debt of a Turkish charter school network in Arkansas.
Officials with the Houston-based charter operator contend the allegations are baseless and are part of a political move by the Turkish government to discredit the school system.
"I've never seen anything like this" said attorney Robert Schulman, who represents Harmony Public Schools. "Registered foreign agents are using the TEA's complaint mechanisms to malign the largest charter school system in the state of Texas and the largest and one of the most successful STEM schools in the nation."
The TEA probe into the inner workings of Harmony stems from a complaint filed by agents of the Republic of Turkey who argue the charter school network has ties to Fethullah Gülen, an expatriate Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania who the Turkish government believes masterminded the recent failed coup to take over that country. Turkish leaders have asked the United States to turn over Gulen.

Explore Harmony charter schools in Texas

A group hired by the Republic of Turkey to probe operations of Texas' largest charter school network is urging the state to investigate its claims of employment discrimination, self-dealing and misuse of public funds at Harmony Public Schools.Below, see where Harmony schools are located in Texas.
The 38-page complaint was filed in May by Amsterdam & Partners LLP, a law firm hired by the Republic of Turkey at a cost of at least $50,000 a month to investigate the school system.
The complaint, which was amended this month to include accusations about how the school system issues bonds, accused Harmony of an illegal hiring scheme, which the state is not investigating at this time. The complaint also accuses the school of supporting Gülen and using state and federal dollars to support what is referred to as the "Gulen movement" seeking social change in Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeatedly has accused Gülen of trying to overthrow the Turkish government.
TEA officials asked the school system for copies of documents pertaining to contracts, bonds, purchasing agreements, vendors and a list of employees involved in purchasing from July of 2014 to July of 2016. Harmony has until Aug. 11 to respond. The department will use the information to decide whether to launch a special accreditation investigation of the network, a spokesperson said.
"We've received a complaint and so we're asking them for more information to see if there's any substance to the complaint," spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said.
State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Cantor, steered attention to the embattled charter school earlier this month, asking the attorney general to begin its own investigation into Harmony's hiring practices and use of taxpayer funds. The attorney general's office on Friday declined to comment on whether it would investigate the school.
The charter network, which claims a 98 percent graduation rate, has attempted to bat away criticism from Amsterdam & Partners since the firm first filed a 90-part open records request of Harmony last year. Harmony officials say they welcome the opportunity to "repudiate the preposterous claims" and clear its name.
"Harmony Public Schools looks forward to laying the charges to rest and returning to its successful mission of educating young Texans," Dr. Soner Tarim, CEO of Harmony Public Schools, said in a Friday statement.
"For almost two decades, Texas families have entrusted their children with us. So, let me reiterate: Harmony Public Schools has no affiliation of any kind with any religious or social organizations or movements."TEA to launch probe of Harmony charter schools - Houston Chronicle - 
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