Texas Legislature To Launch Investigation Of Charter Schools

Jessica Huseman, CBSDFW.com

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The Texas Legislature ordered an investigation on Tuesday of the largest charter school network in the state after news organizations reported potential ties to a Muslim organization and misuse of public funds.

These concerns about Houston based-Harmony Public Schools helped lead to the initial defeat of Senate Bill 1, which had to pass before the budget could be balanced, because of provisions that provided guarantees for charter school bonds.

“We were uncomfortable voting for that bill unless we were sure that those funds were being properly spent,” said Rep. Phil King (R – Weatherford). The bill allowed charter schools to achieve AAA bond ratings, which decreases the cost of insurance rates and issuance costs.

King said a caucus after the bill’s defeat brought out these concerns, and he suggested an investigation into the charter school network as a stipulation of passing the funding. This guarantee led to the passage of the bill on the second vote.

The concerns stemmed from aNew York Times article published earlier this month that drew a connection between Harmony and Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher of moderate Islam who has built up a worldwide network of followers.

The article also insinuated the school gave preference to Turkish-run companies when choosing building contractors and food suppliers when cheaper options were available, as well as hired international teachers, specifically from Turkey, who might not have been qualified.

“These are serious allegations,” King said. “As public officials, it is our duty to look into them.”

Harmony chief executive Soner Tarim issued a statement Wednesday morning saying he “welcomed” the investigation as a change to prove the allegations are false.

“Like all public schools in Texas, whether traditional or charter, we are required to operate in full compliance with the laws, regulations and guidance set by the state of Texas, and we do so,” he said.

Harmony runs 36 charter schools in Texas, with at least one in every major metropolitan area – including one in Fort Worth, one in Garland and two in Dallas.

Jennifer Sarver of Burson-Marsteller, the public relations firm representing Harmony, said the New York Times article that prompted this investigation was inaccurate and “full of bias.”

In a letter to the article’s author, New York Times reporter Stephanie Saul, Sarver accused Saul of “giving significant credence to unfounded innuendo and allegations made by a few voices whose rhetoric, frankly, is tinged with religious bigotry and discrimination.”

Saver said she was convinced “if these were Catholic schools this wouldn’t be a story.”

When CBSDFW.com contacted Saul, she rejected charge of bias and said the story was “100 percent accurate.”

“I think that the report stands on its own,” Saul said. “The story lays out a number of details about their construction arrangements and if the reader takes away from it that they feel it’s improper, then that’s how the reader interprets the story.”

Sarver said while Turkish immigrants to the United States founded the school, their only motivation was providing American students with a better education in math and science.

Sarver denied any connections with the Gulen organization, and said the only interest in hiring contractors to build schools was the speed at which it could get done.

“Our interest lies in serving the students and getting the schools built in time. Sometimes the lowest bid is not always the fastest,” Sarver said.

Sarver said the qualifications of the teachers “were clear,” as two Harmony schools were recently included in Newsweek’s top 10 list of “Miracle Schools” that deliver outstanding educational services despite serving low-income students and having limited funding.

These two schools, Harmony Science Academy – North Austin and Harmony Science Academy – Dallas, were also named in the magazine’s top 500 schools in the United States.

Josie Duckett, vice president for public and government affairs of the Texas Charter School Association, said she believes the allegations in the article are false, and said she felt “very comfortable” with the construction agreements and hiring practices of Harmony.

“Hopefully the investigation will only help clear up any misunderstanding that is happening with in the Texas Legislature,” she said.

Duckett, whose organization will comply with any requests for information during the investigation, said she is confident the school is not involved with the Gulen organization and its “name will be cleared” at the conclusion of the investigation.

While Duckett echoed Sarver’s feelings that the article and the investigation were unfair, King said the Legislature’s decision did not reflect feelings of bias within the House or Senate.

“This investigation is absolutely not any type of witch hunt,” he said, “it’s just an effort to make sure public dollars are being used appropriately.”

King did not know when the investigation would begin, but said he hoped the allegations against Harmony were false.

“Hopefully we’ll get in there and find that everything is OK, but when you have these types of allegations you’ve got to go in there and check it out,” King said.


One Comment

  1. Frank Kaz says:

    The fact that the Harmony Science Academies are part of the American based Gulen Movement’s educational operation and that they are Muslim is unimportant and not relevant. What is relevant and alarming is the constant lack of transparency from this group and their many Gulen front groups or NGOs.
    Accountability in education is the utmost of importance when educating our children and America will not tolerant anything less. Millions of educational tax monies has been paid to this group and much of it is crossing over state lines to other Gulen managed charter schools in OK, AR, LA, NM and elsewhere. The abuses of h1-b Visas, no-bid contracts favoring Gulenist own companies and money laundering among their many lobbying groups to pay for lavish trips to Turkey or honors for local academia, media, religious leaders or politicians is a typical trick of this group worldwide.
    And Texas thought they were so special.

    1. What's your point? says:

      I’ve seen this blog. Its completely ridiculous. These charter schools are audited regularly by the state. Pretty sure they would have picked up on these “lavish trips.” As for the visas, I’m sorry, I don’t care who is teaching my child if they can make the school one of the top 10 in the nation for serving underpriviledged children.

      This school is doing so much good. Why try and destroy it like you are? There are so many other schools, like every school in DISD, that carries on secretive and corrupt practices. Why not focus on those? Especially since they are completely failing our children.

      Pick your fights. Namely, don’t fight a school that has improved the lives of so many people with such weak connections to your complaints.

  2. Been There says:

    Let a white person walk into one of these schools and see the reception you get, particularly a woman who does not have her head covered. At least the Catholic schools do not teach bombing anyone who is not Catholic!

    1. Parent of a Harmony Student says:

      Hey, “Been there.” Clearly you haven’t “been there.”

      My son goes to this school, and so did my daughter. Neither of them were taught any religion, and certainly were not required to wear headscarves. You are a fool.

      This is a public school who for 10 years has passed every state test and has done great things for the children attending. My son and daughter flourished at this school, how dare you accuse them of teaching them to bomb people.

      I can’t even believe that you would say this. Its such a lie. Why comment on something you know nothing about?

    2. Celie says:

      This statement is unfounded, unfair, and downright ignorant.

  3. ohohmrbill says:

    Amazing how so called happy go lucky parents come this board to detract from the reall issue at at hand. Where is your money really going and is this really good for the community. Some parents are hard working members who may have worked at some of the comapanies that really needed to get back. Some of those parents could be supporters of the school. I am certain that wthis would not be the case anymore. What Harmony is unethical. End of story.

    So what is the difference between a GUlen School and a Gulen Inspired school? The verbiage. Because if this is the teachings and philosophies of Imam GUlen then this somebody you need to watch out for.

    This is not the first time a Gulen School will going under the knife to find the truth about there secret agenda.

    Like Harmony this school also falls under the umbrella of Cosmos Foundation.

    1. Celie says:

      I’m sorry, but your comment is very hard to understand. Parents are not here to detract from the issue. Parents are here because they are invovled in the schools, many are very deeply rooted in the schools, and know what goes on everyday. The parents are doing only what comes natural to any individual whose beliefs or modes of living are being attacked. Attacking their children’s educational system is a huge issue. They are simply defending their choices. The school system’s stance on these allegations is to open the door to the investigation and let the findings speak for themselves. There seems to be alot of detracting from the truth from others (ex. Donna Garner right-wing conservative) who know only superficial truths based on blog hearsay.

  4. Crow says:

    Well true it has absolutely nothing to do with faith or a Gulen Movement.
    Exactly where is the transparency in all Texas expenditures of taxpayers money, it’s non-existant. How much does your Representative get and exactly where is it posted their pay scale and expenditures we pay for?
    You see it’s not only a school expenditure problem (yes we don’t have access to the full cost of how every penny is spent by our local schools for maintenance, athletics, salarys from janitor all the way to the very top). BTW local school did take a higher bid to keep the money in the community, so corruption is nothing new. When lower bids are taken, then they add in all the cost over-runs LOL.
    Past when all was done by hand it would be to hard of a task to report how every bit of money is spent, yet with computers and many of them having sites there is no excuse to even not know how much they are paying for TP with taxpayers money. Every penny of taxpayers money they collect from the legislature, to schools, to gas tax and road repair fees, etc. can be easily shown now. Face it we no longer live in a world you can trust anyone in since corruption is behind the fall of this Nation and State.
    As for investigations forget it, there is no reason to nail one without being able to nail them all, put the income collected from taxpayers funds and detailed expenses from every penny collected. Duh, no more corruption that cannot be easily seen or investigated.

  5. robbie g says:

    Ignore anyone who comments to say that their child is getting a great education at this school. They are trying to distract you from the facts that money is being laundered by a potential hate group (Islam) to use against the US later. Do not trust the Gulenites – they will stab you in the back the first chance they get.

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