Gulen schools in US face scrutiny

A number of American charter schools linked to the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen have come under increasing legal and financial strain. About 150 such schools were linked to the self-exiled Pennsylvania resident cleric. Expansion of such publicly financed schools has noticeably slowed in recent years as per public records. This slowdown comes in the middle of a number of probes made by the government into allegations which range from visa fraud to misusing taxpayer funds.

It is to be noted that investigations launched by federal and state officials have not culminated in any criminal charges. Gulen was not directly implicated in any of them, with his name not appearing in any charter school. These schools face pressure as the Government of Turkey cracks down on Gulen supporters both inside Turkey and also urge the United States for Gulen to be extradited to Turkey.  The pressures are showing as only three new schools were made operational in 2015 and 2016. This is in sharp contrast with 23 schools being inaugurated in 2010. A Reuters review of public records show that 153 charter schools with an active management function around the country.

According to Hakan Berberoglu of the Illinois headquartered Niagara Foundation, these schools are being extra cautious of their finances and the system of hiring contractors due to the media coverage and investigations. The Niagara Foundation says it aims to promote inter-faith dialogue as espoused by Gulen. The latter is also its honorary president. Berberoglu said that these schools have no official affiliation with Gulen. They also have no central authority.

There are other signs of slowdown as well. The school submitted visa applications for guest workers to be brought in from Turkey have declined to only 360 in 2015 from 1,000 such applications in 2010. This trend, as evidenced by immigration records, mirrors a desire by schools connected with Gulen to avoid unnecessary government scrutiny. Attorneys hired by Ankara have retched up their aggressive campaign to persuade the federal, state and local authorities to start new inquiries and also discredit charter schools and other Gulen operations in the United States. 

Gulen’s followers are quick to dismiss such fears. When asked about the signs that the movement has come under pressure in United States, the spokesman of Gulen, Alp Aslandogan, said that he is not worried.  A number of Gulen supporters based inside Turkey now look towards their American comrades for safe haven and material support. 

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