Monday, March 31, 2014

Chicago Charter Schools and the Turkish Elections

So, there was a press briefing at the State Department today, and one of the questions was about the Turkish elections, which were held yesterday. This is going to be a quickie post about how the Turkish election results are directly related to charter schools in Chicago.

Here was the question and answer at the State Department today.

QUESTION:  So my question is, like, there has been so much talk that the United States and even the West in general are more in line with that – with Fethullah Gulen’s position on Turkey than Erdogan, and that’s why the United States has stepped up its criticism on Twitter, on like the corruption, and also regarding Erdogan’s handling of other (inaudible) issues.

MS. HARF:  Well, that’s ridiculous.  Regardless of whether this gentleman was living in Pennsylvania or not, it would still not be okay for the Government of Turkey to ban Twitter.  It would still not be okay for the Government of Turkey to crack down like they have on dissent.  Those things have nothing to do with the fact that one of their citizens is living in the Pennsylvania countryside. 

QUESTION:  Aren’t you more in position with, for example, Fethullah Gulen --

MS. HARF:  No.

QUESTION:  -- who is reportedly pro-Israel-Turkey relations --

MS. HARF:  Turkey’s a NATO ally.  Let’s be clear here.  Turkey is a close NATO ally.  We don’t always agree on everything, but we don’t agree on everything with anyone.  So forget about the gentleman living in Pennsylvania.  We have a bilateral alliance with the Government of Turkey.  We will speak out when we disagree.  We will speak out when we agree.  And it’s really up to the people of Turkey to make decisions about their government.  We – it’s not up to us, and any reports that we have any impact on that are just crazy.

The journalist was trying to make a point about the widely held belief that the US government is playing some kind of chess with Turkey's internal politics to achieve some unnamed geopolitical objective. It's an opinion I share. It's on my radar because the particular cleric at the center of intrigue also happens to be at the center of America's largest network of charter schools.

The Turkish prime minister--infamously corrupt and evidently the landslide victor in these bare-knuckle, sketchy-at-best elections-- pulls no punches when talking about the very same Pennsylvania-based cleric:

The campaign was dominated by a series of corruption allegations implicating senior government officials. The AK Party blamed supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who's living in exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.

Erdogan said: "We will not surrender to Pennsylvania and their offshoots in Turkey. From tomorrow, there may be some who flee, there are some who already fled. We will enter their lair. They will pay for this. They will pay the price."

So, there's that. A repressive, authoritarian figure wins ugly, but definitively, in Turkey, and his political enemy/former ally, Fethullah Gulen, sits in Pennsylvania, writing poems.

Let's review who Fethullah Gulen's right-hand man is. It's this guy, as I've pointed out before:

Mr. Aslandogan was one of the founders of Wisconsin Career Academy, which made ignominious headlines later in time. He also attempted to start charter schools in Oak Park, Des Plaines, and Palatine. And those are just the ones I'm aware of.

Here's his name (below) on a legal document filed in Mt. Prospect during a zoning hearing for Niagara Education Services, which runs the Turkish American Society and the Niagara Foundation, the public face of the Gulen Movement in Chicago, which has been running the junkets to Turkey for so many Illinois politicians. 

And there at the bottom of the same document is the current vice-president of Concept Schools, which runs three publicly funded charter schools in Chicago at the moment. So, I read the connection this way:


Incidentally, the petitioner of the Mt. Prospect zoning request, shown here (p 105),

is described by people in Ohio as the person who founded the schools that eventually became Concept.              

When our first school opened in Cleveland in 1999 there were financial challenges. The State of Ohio does not provide any facilities funding for charter schools and banks as a rule will not lend to start up charter schools. After attempting to obtain funding in Cleveland, the founder of Horizon Science Academies, Taner Ertekin, reached out to businessmen in Turkey to find short-term non-interest bearing loans.

Go back and look the individual who is making this statement in Ohio. Is it some crackpot? No. It's the vice-president of Concept. In other words, the umbrella group of the Gulen Movement in Chicago has on its board, in paperwork filed with a municipality, two people directly related to Concept Schools, with a third Concept person (the founder of Concept) acting as petitioner. And yet we're supposed to stop asserting that there's a connection between the Movement and the charter schools.

So, to sum up, we have on one hand the Turkish elections. The victor of those elections-- a man who has shut down Twitter across a nation--- is now threatening to "enter the lair" of Fethullah Gulen's organization and "make them pay." And on the other hand,  this very same organization, now more and more on the run, is directly linked to charter schools in the States, while pretending very hard not to be.

What could possibly go wrong?

It's my position that the conversation moving forward should be about transparency in the charter sector. In this one charter chain alone, we see obvious legal relationships between the charter operators and the leaders of an active overseas political movement. We need some sunlight on charter operations, and we need it soon.

UPDATE: Sharon Higgins has sent along a link to the actual State Department briefing; here's the clip. And after you watch the clip, just go and "forget about the gentleman living in Pennsylvania." I'm pretty sure that's what we're being asked to do, what with the press blackout on the subject.

It all has a very "ignore the man behind the curtain" feel.

New to the topic? Check out some of my other posts.

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