US Network of Gülen Cleric Facing Pressure
A network of more than 150 U.S. charter schools linked to followers of Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher the Turkish government blames for instigating the July 15 failed coup, has come under growing financial and legal strain, according to school officials, current and former members of Gülen’s movement, and public records, Reuters reported on Sept. 26.
The publicly financed schools, a key source of jobs and business opportunities for U.S. members of Gülen’s global movement, have sharply slowed their expansion in recent years, public records show.
The slowdown comes amid a series of government probes in more than a dozen states into allegations ranging from misuse of taxpayer funds to visa fraud. The investigations launched by state and federal officials have not resulted in criminal charges or directly implicated Gülen, whose name is not on any of the charter schools. The increased pressure on the schools also comes as the Turkish government is cracking down on Gülen supporters at home and presses hard for Gülen’s extradition.
Just three new schools were opened each in 2015 and this year to date, down from a peak of 23 new schools in 2010, according to a Reuters review of the public records of 153 charter schools and their management companies around the country.
At the same time, 15 schools have been closed or transferred to owners with no connection to Gülen’s movement since 2010. In at least 11 of those cases – including in Georgia, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio – the management firms or individual schools themselves had faced official investigations, Reuters found.
“Since these investigations and pressures from media coverage have been going on, the schools are much more, maybe five times more careful, in terms of their finances, how they hire contractors,” said Hakan Berberoğlu, acting executive director of the Illinois-based Niagara Foundation. Gülen is the honorary president of the foundation.
“They are much more careful in how they expand,” he told Reuters.
In another sign of a slowdown, the number of visa applications the schools submitted for guest workers from Turkey and other countries declined to 360 last year from more than 1,000 in 2010, immigration records show. The trend reflects a desire by the schools linked to Gülen followers to avoid further government scrutiny, according to current and former members of the movement.
In the wake of the failed coup, Ankara’s attorneys in the United States have stepped up a campaign to try to persuade local, state and federal authorities to open new inquiries and discredit the charter schools and other U.S. operations linked to Gülen.