Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Charters as Money Funnels

Another Gulen charter chain is in the news this week, this time thanks to reporting by James Pilcher in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Gulen charters are not an actual charter chain, but a reference to the large web of charter schools founded by followers of the Turkish-born Muslim Iman Fethullah Gulen. Gulen came to the US in 1999, acquired a visa with the alleged help of the CIA, and settled in the Poconos (it really is lovely there).

The Cincinnati article catalogs all of the usual complaints about the Gulen chains. Staffed with unqualified, non-English speaking Turks, brought over on H-1B visas (because it's just so hard to find a qualified teacher looking for a job in this country). Education somewhere between mediocre and lousy. Lots of secretive behavior. The perimeter primate blog has some well-researched material about the movement.

Pilcher talked to one former teacher who described a system of tribute payment, in which employees are expected to kickback a good sized chunk of their pay (this allegation is denied by the charter with their usual one-size-fits-all-allegations response "these are just the words of a disgruntled former employee").

I talk to folks who are mystified by the whole business. Why would Turkish nationals be interested in American education? The answer is simple, and it highlights exactly what is wrong with the new wave of charter schools.

They aren't interested in American education at all. They're interested in American money.

When al-Qaeda was linked to US heroin trade a decade ago, nobody asked why the terrorist group was interested in American drug users. The answer was obvious-- drug traffic was a gaping hole in the US economy out of which millions of American dollars could be funneled.

The same principle would seem to apply here. Read about the reported behavior at Gulen charters (candy and parties for the days of "count week") and you see behaviors aimed directly at getting maximum money out of the schools.

It's not a school. It's a fund raiser.

Some commentators are concerned that Gulen is digging for ideological converts, and that may well be a side feature of some of these charters. But mostly what they do is hoover up giant piles of American tax dollars. The Gulen chains don't have to be excellent, and they don't have to play the kind of numbers-fudging games that some charters play-- they just have to do well enough to keep the money rolling in.

And that could be the motto of the modern charter movement-- "Just good enough to keep the money rolling in." Folks can get their dander up about Turkish nationals (and Muslims, at that-- gasp) walking in and setting up mediocre schools that skirt laws, push US teachers out of the job market, and send millions of tax dollars out of the country, but the Gulen folks are simply walking right through a door that modern charter proponents opened up. America is the land of opportunity, and current charter laws in many states represent an opportunity to make a pile of money.

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