School Choice & Charters

The Bizarre Link Between Some U.S. Charters and the Failed Coup in Turkey

By Arianna Prothero — July 18, 2016 2 min read
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is blaming a longtime political foe and cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania for being behind the recent failed military coup in Turkey.

Fethullah Gulen, the founder of what is often described as a moderate Islamic movement which remains strong in Turkey, has also been linked to science- and math-focused charter schools run by Turkish educators across this country.

Most recently, local media outlets in California, Ohio, and Texas have reported on charter schools with alleged ties to Gulen, though he does not directly run any charters.

Still, the Republic of Turkey has hired the Washington- and London-based law firm, Amsterdam & Partners, to investigate over 100 charter schools founded by followers of Gulen’s movement, according to the Associated Press. Erdogan’s government has raised objections to a variety of issues related to the schools, including the hiring of Turkish nationals to teach in the charters. But Gulen’s supporters say Erdogan’s interest in the U.S. charters is entirely political.

It’s a fight the Turkish government has taken all the way down to the local district level of American politics.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, a representative from Amsterdam & Partners appeared at a Fremont, Calif., school board hearing in January to protest Magnolia Public Schools’ application to open a new charter school there.

Earlier this month, the Houston Chronicle reported that a Texas state lawmaker asked the state attorney general’s office to investigate a large charter school network there which, the paper said, was part of a bigger effort organized by the Turkish government.

Amsterdam & Partners filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency accusing Harmony Public Schools of taking advantage of the U.S. visa program and favoring vendors with ties to Gulen’s movement.

In 2014, the Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, reported that several schools in the state under the Concept Schools charter network had come under scrutiny for almost exclusively hiring teachers of Turkish heritage. An investigation by the paper found that the schools were affiliated with a foundation that paid for state lawmakers to travel to Turkey. Former employees of the schools also told the paper that they were compelled to donate large portions of their salaries to Gulen’s movement.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.