Jason McGahan, an investigative reporter for LA Weekly in California, looked into some strange practices in the schools affiliated with the Gulen movement. Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic cleric who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. The Erdogan government in Turkey claims that Gulen was responsible for the recent failed coup. Whether he was or was not involved in the coup is unknown. Gulen’s role in the charter movement is also unclear. He has some undefined connection with 160 or so charter schools, which go under a variety of names. Many or most of their teachers are on work visas from Turkey, and typically most or all of their board members are Turkish. It is odd that foreign nationals would take control of running “public” schools in the United States, since the essential role of public schools is to teach citizenship. The organization frequently sponsors trips to Turkey for state legislators and their staff and for Congressional staff. These “free” trips promote good will.
The story that interested McGahan was the movement of cash from the charter schools to the Gulen organization. When “60 Minutes” reported on the Gulen schools a few years ago, one of the people interviewed said that Gulen teachers were expected to remit 40% of their wages to the organization. McGahan reports that the practice seems to be customary.
His informant was a Turkish man named Yunus Avcu. He described his monthly trips from Aurora, Colorado, to Santa Ana, California, to bring a briefcase full of cash to “the organization.” Avcu said the cash was the regular deductions from staff members’ salaries.
Avcu says these payments weren’t voluntary; he says the organization also obligated him to return about 40 percent of his own salary every month. He says Accord executives made an Excel spreadsheet at the start of the school year with the salary of every Turkish employee at every school in one column and the amount of money each would owe in another. Avcu says executives determined the amount each Turkish teacher had to return to the organization, based on the employee’s seniority, education level, marital status and number of children. “The organization was taking the money from the people,” Avcu says. “If you don’t pay this money, they don’t employ you. If you reject or refuse to pay this, you have to go back to Turkey.”
According to Avcu, the cash funded the worldwide organization of Fethullah Gülen, a controversial Turkish preacher living in self-exile in the United States….
The inspector general of the Los Angeles Unified School District alleges that a California charter school group, the Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation, is among the more than 160 U.S. charter school groups with ties to Gülen. Magnolia operates charter schools on 10 campuses in California, including eight in L.A. It also happened to be headquartered in the same office space as the Accord Institute [where Avcu delivered the cash each month]….
The CEO at Magnolia Public Schools, Caprice Young, denies any formal or financial affiliation with Gülen or the Gülen movement; she does, however, acknowledge that certain current and former directors of the foundation are believers in Gülen’s teachings. “Some of our founding principals had ties to Gülen,” Young tells L.A. Weekly, but she says those founders are no longer part of Magnolia….
Since 2011, the FBI has raided charter schools with ties to Gülen in Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. A Georgia audit found three schools engaged in bid-rigging to vendors with ties to Gülen. A New York audit found one charter school had leased its building in a way that netted millions of dollars for a New Jersey company with ties to Turkey. In Utah, authorities revoked the charter of a school tied to Gülen after an audit uncovered financial mismanagement. In Illinois, a charter group tied to Gülen is under federal investigation for funneling more than $5 million in federal grant money to insiders and away from the charter schools’ fund intended to extend Internet access to schools with low-income students….
Caprice Young is the somewhat unlikely face of the Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation. She assumed the helm as CEO in January 2015, and her hiring was widely interpreted as a move to both reform Magnolia’s management practices and rehabilitate its image. Young is the first American and first woman to serve as CEO at the charter organization, whose four previous CEOs were Turkish men.
Magnolia pays Young a salary of $236,000, and it has provided her the full-time services of a public relations specialist from Larson Communications, an L.A. firm that includes crisis management among its specialties. Magnolia pays the firm $12,000 a month.
Young is a former president of the LAUSD board; she served for four years before losing her re-election bid in 2003. From there, she went on to found the California Charter Schools Association, building it into a formidable statewide organization in her five years as president. By Young’s account, her specialty since stepping down from CCSA eight years ago has been turning around charter schools from the brink of financial collapse.
Young says she began working at Magnolia as a consultant in late 2014. Her personal connection to Magnolia dates back to 2001, when, as school board president, she voted to approve Magnolia’s first charter school, Magnolia Science Academy 1 in Reseda. She says she has fond memories of the eight Turkish scientists, businessmen and educators who founded the school; the news clipping that commemorates the school’s founding is framed and displayed on the wall of Magnolia’s conference room.
The eight charter schools operated by the Magnolia foundation in L.A. — in Van Nuys, Carson, Venice, Palms, Northridge, Bell and Reseda — received a collective $26 million in local, state and federal funds in fiscal year 2014, according to audited financial statements. The schools enroll a collective 2,600 students, the vast majority of them from disadvantaged families, school officials say. Eighty percent of Magnolia students are eligible for the school lunch program, and a similar proportion of them are low-income and students of color. Generally the Magnolia charters outperform their public school peers, but not across the board.
The article describes the multiple investigations of the Magnolia charter schools and recent decisions to deny their requests to open more charter schools.
There is so much mystery surrounding the Gulen schools that some investigative agencies should look into their origins, their ties (if any) to Fethullah Gulen, and their finances. Why in the world should we outsource public schools including corrupt networks?