A member of the United States House of Representatives out of East Texas has urged the state Attorney General’s office to open investigations into Harmony Public Schools, a Houston-based charter school, which is allegedly linked to the Muslim cleric and scholar Fethullah Gülen. The news comes following accusations made in May by the Republic of Turkey that Fethullah Gülen and his associates are behind Harmony Public Schools, a charter school chain that has 46 campuses in Texas.
Charter schools, which are publicly-funded, privately-operated schools with considerably greater independence compared to traditional public schools, are expanding in many US states, with Texas being home to 723. The Harmony charter school network has been accused of fraud, misappropriation of taxpayer dollars, shady business dealings, discrimination, conflicts of interest, and other questionable business practices.
Gülen, meanwhile, has also been accused of being behind the recent coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and is facing possible extradition to Turkey.
Rep. Dan Flynn voiced his concerns in a letter to the Attorney General’s office, saying that:
“I am most concerned because if the facts are correct, Texas taxpayers are in fact in danger and our education system, not to mention the safety of our citizens, seems to be in peril”.
The attorneys representing Turkey’s government, whom Flynn cited, filed a 32-page document complaining to the Texas Education Agency about the school network, whose founders are Turkish American. The complaint includes accusations of preferential hiring of male Turkish teachers as well as alleged funneling of money to the Gülen Organization.
However, as reported by the American-Statesman, Harmony Public Schools CEO Soner Tarim has recently accused the government representatives of unfairly targeting the charter school network. Tarim called the government’s accusations “ridiculous and baseless” and cited the fact that a majority of Turkish citizens who live in Texas voted against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2014. He believes that the government think Harmony is behind this, though Harmony school leaders deny any links to Gülen and say that these issues have already been settled or dismissed.
As reported by Dallas News, Sinan Yildirim, a member of one of the school’s governing boards, was asked in 2013 if the alleged connections between the charter schools were true, to which he replied:
“We said no. They said yes. If they claim something they have to prove. And they can’t prove it.”
As far back as 2010, Gülen addressed the issue of his connection to the charter schools, saying to USA Today that:
“I have no relation with any institution in the form of ownership, board membership or any similar kind.”
He also denied that there is such a thing as a “Gülen movement,” which has been designated as the Gülenist Terrorist Organisation by the Turkish Justice and Development Party. He did acknowledge that educators may have been influenced by his philosophy.
Although Fethullah Gülen, who is in self-imposed exile in the United States, has denied Turkish president Erdoğan’s claims that he was responsible for the recent coup attempt, a formal written request for his extradition to Turkey will be submitted in the following days, Erdoğan told CNN.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan has refused to rule out the possibility of reintroducing the death penalty into Turkish law as punishment for those involved in the coup. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of human rights reforms undertaken for its membership bid for the European Union. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said that Turkey will not be joining the European Union if the death penalty is reintroduced.