With the FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education investigating them and parents and officials in Ohio, Hawaii, Arizona, Utah, Texas, and elsewhere questioning their financial dealings, it appears that Gülen charter schools—managed by Concept Schools and other companies—have been duping lawmakers, politicians, school boards, and parents for several years now, with accusations flying that the group is using U.S. taxpayer money to help fund the Islamist Hizmet organization in Turkey.
According to Charter School Scandals (one of the top charter school watchdog groups and a close follower of Gülen) there have been 155 Gülen charter schools established or attempted in 28 states in the U.S. and hundreds in other countries.
Gülen charter schools are founded by followers of Fethullah Gülen, a wealthy reformer who lives in exile in Pennsylvania after being kicked out of Turkey for attempting to establish an Islamic state. His group has allegedly infiltrated the Turkish police force, according to cables released by Wikileaks. The goals of the Gülen movement are murky, even to experts and U.S. government officials, who often disagree or change their opinions of the group.
Nonetheless, investigations of the Gülen charter schools are happening. As the Philadelphia Inquirer and other sources note, the FBI investigations are being coordinated by prosecutors in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and involve hundreds of Gülen charter school members nationwide. Suspicions center around the group supposedly using taxpayer money to bring teachers here from Turkey and other countries who are part of this religious group. These teachers then agree to ship back a percentage of their paychecks to the Gülen movement in Turkey.
In Indiana, the Indiana Math and Science Academy’s (IMSA) two Gülen charters ((North and West) have applied for 17 visas for teachers and other individuals to come to Indianapolis and work. With 1,397 students enrolled in these schools since 2007, Indiana taxpayers have paid out millions. Managed by Concept Schools, the Indiana branch has received at least $235,000 from the Walton Family, owners of Wal-Mart and one of the biggest payers in the charter school movement. Gülen charters nationwide are loaded with private, state, and federal funding.
In 2008, Ball State University, which sponsors IMSA, withdrew the group’s request for a school in Gary after finding that the school had not hired teachers, enrolled students, or found an adequate building.
Although not currently operating in the Hoosier state, Vedat Akgun is one of the founders of the Gülen charter movement in Indiana. In 2001, Akgun petitioned for the Indiana Science Academy, and in 2002, along with current IMSA board member Kevin Miller, senior pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Akgun founded the Indiana Life Sciences Academy. Although applications were submitted, these schools did not, for some reason, made it to fruition.
Vedat Akgun is a former founder of another branch of Gülen schools, Horizon schools, which is run by Concept Schools in Ohio. Currently, he owns New Plan Learning (formerly known as Breeze, Inc.), a charter school supporting company some say is a for-profit outfit working with Concept Schools. In 2007, auditors found that Horizon was using taxpayer money to pay for visas and state-aid for property taxes, which is illegal in Ohio.
Another IMSA board member and co-founder, Bilal Eksili, directs the Indiana branch of the Niagara Foundation (the group operates in eight states) and Indiana’s Holy Dove Foundation, both peace and interfaith groups associated with the Gülen movement and almost indistinguishable in nature. Oddly, besides giving luncheons and trips to Turkey, sitting on charter school boards, and hiring unpaid interns to do the business work of organizing meetings with Indiana governmental officers, religious leaders, and professors, it doesn’t appear that the Holy Dove/Niagara Foundations do anything to promote diversity, love, peace, and friendship, as their mission statement suggests. Without even an advisory board listed online, it appears the two groups are one-man shows.
Eksili does utilize, however, one of the nationwide Gülen group’s strategies. To win support of governmental officials nationwide, Gülenists invite high-ranking state leaders to dinners to speak and then lavish the officials with awards. Among those in Indiana who have been given awards by Eksili are Mitch Daniels, Bart Peterson (former Indianapolis mayor and now member of the charter school supporter, the Mind Trust), Dan Burton, Richard Lugar, and even Michael Welch, Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis FBI division. Charter school supporter and Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett (see photos 8 and 9 here), as well as other Republicans, are often in attendance at these events.
With Eksili as tour guide, most of the IMSA board members have traveled to Turkey to give support. Another Turkey tour guide and officer for the Holy Dove Foundation, Kazim Eldes, was also involved in IMSA’s founding and has served as Indiana Regional Vice-President of Concept Schools, IMSA’s management company.
IMSA board members include Tim Nation (leader of The Peace Learning Center in Eagle Creek Park, Indianapolis, which uses Gülen-based curriculum, among other things, in their youth programs) who praises Fethullah Gülen in videos; Janette Moody, founder of Literacy for Life, Inc. and a consultant for the Indiana Department of Education; and Murat Dundar, a former Los Alamos National Labs intern/science researcher and computer/information professor at IUPUI.
The Indianapolis FBI, when contacted by email, said it does not “disclose information on investigations.” Also, Tony Bennett’s Chief of Staff (and former director of the charter-school group, School Choice Indiana) Heather Neal said she was unaware of any such investigation.
As it now stands, there is no proof that an investigation of Gülen charter schools is happening in Indiana. But if anything becomes of any investigation that may or may not be happening, it’s safe to say that the media will either downplay it or ignore it altogether. With Daniels, Bennett, Republicans and state corporate leaders working overtime to drain more money from public education and feed it to the charter operators, the last thing they need now is to be associated with more shady dealings.
If anyone has information on the Gülen charter schools in Indiana, please post it at Indiana Government Exposed.