(Co-written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)
Note: Over the next few weeks, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the Connecticut State Board of Education will be reviewing and approving applications for new charter schools in Connecticut. This is the first in a series of posts about some of the applicants for these publicly funded charter schools.
“Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish author, educator, and Muslim scholar.” (Wikipedia)
“Fethullah Gulen is a major Islamic political figure in Turkey, but he lives in self-imposed exile in a Poconos enclave and gained his green card by convincing a federal judge in Philadelphia that he was an influential educational figure in the United States.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2011)
“Controversial Muslim preacher, feared Turkish intriguer—and “inspirer” of the largest charter school network in America.” (City Journal, fall 2012)
Date Line Connecticut;
On April 7th 2011, Nebi Demirsoy, in his capacity as President of the Connecticut chapter of the Turkish Cultural Center – presented Governor Dannel P. Malloy with the Center’s “Statesman of the Year Award.”
Last year, on March 8, 2012, Nebi Demirsoy, in his capacity as Executive Director of the Connecticut chapter of the Peace Islands Institute presented Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, with the organization’s “Educator of the Year” award.
Other guests in attendance at the March 8th gala included Congressman Chris Murphy, Governor Dannel Malloy, Speaker of the House of Representatives Christopher G. Donovan, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin Ryan and State Board of Education Chairman Allan B. Taylor. Both Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor addressed the audience.
The Peace Islands Institute – CT, the entity giving Commissioner Pryor the award, is part of a broader organization with offices in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
The Honorary President of Peace Islands Institute is Fethullah Gulen.
In addition to serving as President of the Turkish Cultural Center and the Executive Director of the Peace Islands Institute, Nebi Demirsoy also serves as the President of the Putman Science Academy; a Gulen associated private boarding school located in Putnam, Connecticut.
This year, among the 24 applications submitted to Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and the Connecticut State Board of Education for new state funded charter schools was a charter school application submitted by Ismail Agirman. The new charter school would be built in New Haven.
Ismail Agirman is the treasurer of Wellspring Cultural and Education Foundation, Inc.
Bringing the circle to completion, Wellspring is the corporate entity that operates the Putnam Science Academy.
CAMS – A New Charter School for Connecticut
Calling themselves the Connecticut Academy of Math and Science (CAMS), Agriman’s application was one of the nine proposals for new charter schools in Bridgeport, four charter schools in New Haven and two schools in Hartford and Windham.
Although the State Board of Education does not require support from local education officials, formal or informal support is considered a valuable asset. The year before Stefan Pryor was awarded the “Educator of the Year” award, the Turkish Cultural Center gave their “Education Award” to New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo, the New Haven education official whose support for the new Connecticut Academy of Math and Science charter school would be invaluable.
In addition, according to the New Haven Independent, two of the nine members of the proposed Connecticut Academy of Math and Science board of directors have important political connections; Deputy Speaker of the House Kevin Ryan and Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins.
Deputy Speaker of the House Kevin Ryan has been connected with the Turkish Cultural Center for a number of years, having traveled on one of the Cultural Center’s trips to Turkey.
Meanwhile, Chief Higgins was previously presented with a Turkish Cultural Center Appreciation Award at an even in July 2010.
What is a Gulen Charter School?
As reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post, 60 minutes, the New Yorker, the New Republic and elsewhere, by successfully maximizing state charter school laws around the country, there are at least 135 schools, operating in 26 states and enrolling more than 45,000 students that are associated or affiliated, in one way or another, with the controversial Turkish Cleric Fethullah Gulen.
As publicly funded charters, these schools pull in over $400 million a year in taxpayer funds.
The total number of schools and the amount of public funds that they collect make the Gulen charters, as they are often called, the largest charter school chain in the United States.
Fethullah Gulen’s followers, which often refer to themselves as a “faith-based, civic society movement,” include about 4 to 6 million people. While they make up only a fraction of the 74 million Turks, they are considered one of the most powerful political forces in Turkey.
It is unclear what, if any role, these various activities may play in the success or failure of application being put forward by the Connecticut Academy of Math and Science (CAMS). What is clear is that the charter school applicants have engaged in a masterful job of building bridges to the state officials behind Connecticut’s unprecedented effort to expand the role of charter schools in the state.
Even the most rudimentary research will highlight the controversies surrounding the Gulen associated or affiliated schools;
“Gulen followers have been involved in starting similar schools around the country — there are about 120 in all, mostly in urban centers in 25 states.” (New York Times, June 2011)
“A group of three publicly financed charter schools in Georgia run by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a prominent Turkish imam, have come under scrutiny after they defaulted on bonds and an audit found that the schools improperly granted hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to businesses and groups, many of them with ties to the Gulen movement…. in some cases the awards skirted bidding requirements, the audit said.” (New York Times, June 2012)
“FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education – were investigating whether some charter school employees were kicking back part of their salaries to a Muslim movement founded by Gulen known as Hizmet.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2011)
“The schools are also H-1B visa factories. (These visas are supposed to be reserved for highly skilled workers who fill needs unmet by the American workforce.) In 2011, 292 of the 1,500 employees at the Gülen-inspired Harmony School of Innovation, a Texas charter school, were on H-1B visas, the school’s superintendent told the New York Times. (Washington Post, March 2012)
“The FBI has investigated Concept Schools, which operate 16 Horizon Science Academies across Ohio, on the suspicion that they illegally used taxpayer money to pay immigration and legal fees for people they never even employed, an Ohio ABC affiliate discovered. The FBI’s suspicion was confirmed by state auditors. Concept Schools repaid the fees for their Cleveland and Toledo schools shortly before the ABC story broke, but it’s unclear whether they have repaid—or can repay—the fees for their other schools.” (City Journal, fall 2012)
Check back for more on this interesting issue.
You can read other New England media coverage and perspectives on Gulen charter schools at the Boston Globe: http://bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/02/21/turkish-born-educators-seek-expand-charter-schools-massachusetts/SmJnApodZogoT1esK2NQVN/story.html, the Portland Press Herald: http://www.pressherald.com/news/proposed-charter-school-linked-to-turkish-imam_2013-02-17.html and on the website of fellow blogger, EduShyster, whose most recent post on Gulen School can be found at: http://edushyster.com/?p=2063