Before stakeholders and public officials push toward further expansion of charter schools in New Jersey, they should take a breath, and pause long enough to look at the rise in prominence and influence of a group of charter schools that has grown in the past decade or so out of North Jersey’s Turkish community. The saga of that growth, detailed in an investigation conducted by The Record, raises some troubling questions about the use of taxpayer money, and cries out for greater oversight from the state.
As Staff Writers Jean Rimbach, Jeff Pillets and Hannan Adely report, this still-growing collection of schools – whose founders and leaders include people with close ties to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a controversial Islamic cleric from Turkey now living in the Poconos – has been successful at wooing state and local government officials, while also engaging in troubling financial practices. The Record’s reporting reveals that the charter schools, though often successful academically, have also at times been a channel for state taxpayer money to private entities that serve the schools as landlords or vendors – in one case a Wayne boarding school that is openly Gulen inspired.
Meantime, officials in Turkey, where there has been much political upheaval lately, maintain that Gulen is leveraging a network of more than 100 charter schools across the United States, and using American tax dollars to support revolution back home and to put his followers in power. Robert Amsterdam, a London-based lawyer hired by the Turkish government to investigate the charter school links to Gulen in the United States, said that “it’s clear these schools were being used to raise funds for Gulen and employ Gulen followers and teachers and basically have them tie a percent of their income back to Gulen.”