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Will Connecticut become home to the next Gulen-affiliated Charter School?

Must read article:

Who Is Fethullah Gülen?
Controversial Muslim preacher, feared Turkish intriguer—and “inspirer” of the largest charter school network in America

In 2000, (Gülen) was tried in absentia by a state security court for endeavoring to replace Turkey’s secular government with an Islamic one;…After years of legal wrangling, Gülen was acquitted in 2008.

Gülen’s movement, or cemaat is .. described by many as Turkey’s third power, alongside Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian Justice and Development Party (known as the AKP, its initials in Turkish) and the military…(W)e should explore two things about it that are known to be troubling. First, there is evidence that the cemaat is internally authoritarian, even cultlike. Ilhan Tanır, a Turkish journalist who was in the cemaat but who left it, has expressed particular concern about the blind obedience demanded of its members…Moreover… the cemaat believes that its cosmic mission “justifies any conduct to achieve its ends at any cost.”

The second troubling fact about the cemaat’s activities is …(r)emarks about enemies of Islam, perfidious Armenians, and Mossad plots..incompatible with the message of intercultural tolerance…

Gülen has used his time in America to become the largest operator—or perhaps merely inspirer—of charter schools in the United States. Sharon Higgins, who founded the organization Parents Across America, believes that there are now 135 Gülen-inspired charter schools in the country, enrolling some 45,000 students. That would make the Gülen network larger than KIPP—the runner-up, with 109 schools. The schools, in 25 states, have anodyne names: Horizon Science Academy, Pioneer Charter School of Science, Beehive Science and Technology Academy. Thousands of Turkish nationals, almost all of them male, have come to America on H-1B visas specifically to teach in them. The schools focus on math and science, and their students often do well enough on standardized tests. The administrators say that they have no official ties to Gülen, and Gülen denies any connection to the schools. But federal forms required of nonprofits show that virtually all the schools have opened or operate with the aid of Gülen-inspired groups—local nonprofits that promote Turkish culture. The Ohio-based Horizon Science Academy of Springfield, for example, cosigned a five-year building lease with Chicago’s Niagara Foundation, which explicitly promotes Gülen’s philosophy of “tolerance, dialogue and peace.”

The FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education have been investigating the hiring practices of some of these schools, as the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer have reported—particularly the replacement of certified American teachers with uncertified Turkish ones who get higher salaries than the Americans did, using visas that are supposed to be reserved for highly skilled workers who fill needs unmet by the American workforce. The schools claim, according to an article written by Higgins in the Washington Post, that they are unable to find qualified teachers in America—which seems implausible, given that we’re in the depths of the worst economic downturn in postwar memory, and given that some of these new arrivals have come to teach English, which often they speak poorly, or English as a second language, which often they need themselves. They have also been hired as gym teachers, accountants, janitors, caterers, painters, construction workers, human-resources managers, public-relations specialists, and—of all things—lawyers.

Two of the schools, located in Texas, have been accused of sending school funds—which are supplied by the government, of course, since these are charter schools—to other Gülen-inspired organizations. Last year, the New York Times reported that the charters were funneling some $50 million in public funds to a network of Turkish construction companies, among them the Gülen-related Atlas Texas Construction and Trading. The schools had hired Atlas to do construction, the paper said, though other bidders claimed in lawsuits that they had submitted more economical bids. Meanwhile, Atlas may have played a part in protecting Gülen charter schools; Folwell Dunbar, an official at the Louisiana Department of Education, has accused Atlas’s vice president, Inci Akpinar, of offering him a $25,000 bribe to keep mum about troubling conditions at the Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in New Orleans. Dunbar sent a memo to department colleagues, the Times-Picayune reported, noting that “Akpinar flattered him with ‘a number of compliments’ before getting to the point: ‘I have twenty-five thousand dollars to fix this problem: twenty thousand for you and five for me.’ ” Abramson is operated by the Pelican Foundation, which is linked to the Gülen-inspired Cosmos Foundation in Texas—which runs the two Texas schools.

Utah’s Beehive Science and Technology Academy, another Gülen-inspired charter, was $337,000 in debt, according to a financial probe by the Utah Schools Charter Board. The Deseret News tried to figure out where all this taxpayer money had gone. “In a time of teacher layoffs, Beehive has recruited a high percentage of teachers from overseas, mainly Turkey,” the newspaper reported. “Many of these teachers had little or no teaching experience before they came to the United States. Some of them are still not certified to teach in Utah. The school spent more than $53,000 on immigration fees for foreigners in five years. During the same time, administrators spent less than $100,000 on textbooks, according to state records.” Reports have also claimed that the school board was almost entirely Turkish.

A reporter for the leftist magazine In These Times noted in 2010 that the Chicago Math and Science Academy obscured its relationship to Gülen. And the school board was strikingly similar to Beehive’s: “When I went to the school’s board meeting on July 8, I was taken aback to see a board of directors comprised entirely of men. They all appeared of Turkish, Bosnian or Croatian descent. Although I have nothing against Turkish, Bosnian or Croatian men, it does seem that a school board serving students who are 58 percent Hispanic/Latino, 25 percent African American, 12 percent Asian and 5 percent white might be well served by some women board members and board members from ethnic backgrounds the school predominantly serves.”

Federal authorities are also investigating several of the movement’s schools for forcing employees to send part of their paychecks to Turkey, the Inquirer reports. Also worrying is that some of these schools, after being granted the right to issue large, tax-free public bonds, are now defaulting on them. The New York Times recently reported that Gülen-inspired schools in Georgia had defaulted on $19 million in public bonds, having granted hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to businesses associated with Gülen followers.

There is no evidence that Islamic proselytizing takes place at the American Gülen schools and much evidence that students and parents like them. Most seem to be decent educational establishments, by American standards; graduates perform reasonably well, and some perform outstandingly.

So what are the schools for? Among other things, they seem to be moneymakers for the cemaat. They’re loaded with private, state, and federal funding, and they have proved amazingly effective at soliciting private donations. The schools are also H-1B visa factories and perhaps the main avenue for building the Gülen community in the United States. 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. The feds have 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 feds’ 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.

Perhaps to deflect scrutiny from the schools, people “inspired” by Gülen are constantly inviting high-ranking leaders to dinners to speak and lavishing them with awards. And remember those trips to Turkey that the Turkish-Irish Educational and Cultural Society organizes? The same thing happens in the United States. Dozens of Texans, ranging from state lawmakers to congressional staff members to university professors, have taken trips to Turkey financed by Gülen’s foundations. The Raindrop Foundation, for instance, paid for State Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s travel to Istanbul, according to a recent campaign report. Last January, she cosponsored a state senate resolution commending Gülen for “his ongoing and inspirational contributions to promoting global peace and understanding.”

Steve Terrell, a reporter at the Santa Fe New Mexican, did a bit of digging and found that a remarkable number of local lawmakers had recently taken trips to Turkey courtesy of a private group, the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, that is tied to Gülen. In Idaho last year, a full tenth of state legislators went on the Turkey-trot tour, thanks to the Pacifica Institute, also inspired by Gülen. The Hawaii State Ethics Commission sent a memo to lawmakers reminding them to check with the commission before accepting the all-expenses-paid trip to Turkey to which they’d been invited by Pacifica. “The State Ethics Commission,” said the memo, “does not have sufficient understanding of Pacifica Institute, the purpose of the trip, or the state ‘benefit’ associated with the trip.”

It is no very cynical asperity to wonder if all these trips are connected to the staggering amount of public money going to Gülen-inspired charter schools. Indeed, America is the only country in the world where the Gülen movement has been able to establish schools funded to a great extent by the host country’s taxpayers.

Why is all the above relevant to Connecticut? Here’s why:

Wait, What article co-written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

…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…

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 event in July 2010…

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.