Until last Friday, most Americans had probably never heard of Fethullah Gülen—the controversial Sunni cleric now accused of fomenting a coup attempt in Turkey. But the aged cleric, currently exiled in the Poconos, Pennsylvania, has far greater influence on US society than most realize.
Since 2002, Gülen-affiliated foundations have quietly built up the largest charter-school network in America, with over 130 schools in 26 different states nationwide. This rapid buildup is troubling, however, since financial records suggest the cleric’s charter-school network has routinely funneled public-education dollars to its own members, often with unclear benefit to students.
The last time the Gülen movement made national news was in the summer of 2014, after the FBI raided the offices of a Gülen-linked charter operator, Concept Schools, seeking information about companies it had contracted with under the federal E-Rate program for its schools across the Midwest.
The charter operator’s disbursal of E-Rate dollars for school-technology installation was highly suspect, since the service provider in question, Core Group, had E-rate contracts, amounting to over $2.87 million, only from these Gülen-linked charter schools. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Department of Education investigators claimed that the Gülen charter operator, Concept Schools, had violated government bidding rules, funneling over $5 million in E-Rate funds to firms with ties to the operator.
FBI investigation notwithstanding, an analysis of E-Rate records suggests that similar funneling schemes continue to to this day in Gülen-linked schools across the country.