When Concept Schools applied for a third Math & Science Academy for the city's south side with the Indiana Charter School Board in May, 2012, their application was denied along with two other applications. A little more than six months after being rejected by the state charter school board, Concept Schools presented a new application to Ballard's charter schools office, it was approved along with five other new applications for charter schools. "Mayor Greg Ballard’s office has approved seven more charter schools for Indianapolis—more than half as many as he approved in his previous five years in office," the IBJ reported on December 6, 2012.
It should have come as little surprise that the Math & Science Academy's application with Ballard's charter school office would fare well. In March, 2012, Ballard announced the appointment of Jason Kloth to a new cabinet level position as Deputy Mayor of Education in charge of his charter school office. Kloth joined the Ballard administration after a seven-year stint with Teach For America, a nonprofit national education organization. When Kloth joined the Ballard administration, he had a reason to look favorably on a Gulen-sponsored school. After all, he was one of more than 400 public officials, education, community, religious and business leaders from Indiana who had accepted an invitation to travel on an all-expense paid trip to Turkey courtesy of the Niagara Foundation, yet another Gulen-backed nonprofit organization.
Yesterday, Advance Indiana told you just how deeply the Gulen Movement's efforts through the Niagara Foundation extended to influence opinion of key influence leaders on Turkey and Islam in the Hoosier State by offering them free trips to Turkey, special recognitions and honors, gifts. luncheons, dinners and State House events. Bilal Eksili is the front person for the Niagara Foundation's activities in Indiana. Eksili was instrumental in launching both schools of the Math & Science Academy in Indianapolis, on both of whose boards he sits. According to the Math & Science Academy South's application, Eskili will serve as its board president, along with Salim Ucan, a founding team member, David Holt, Vice-President of Connexus Indiana, Bulent Guler, associate professor at IU-Bloomington, Oznur Dundar, instructor at ELS Indiana, Jeanette Moody, consultant for Scholastic, Inc. and Virgil Madden, a former policy adviser for former Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and recipient of one of the Niagara Foundation's free trips to Turkey with Eksili.
According to FireDogLake's Doug Martin, the Math & Science Academy, like other Gulen-sponsored charter schools, relies heavily on Turkish immigrants to fill the ranks of their teaching staff. Two years ago, Martin wrote that the schools had filed at least 17 visa applications for teaching and other personnel at its two Indianapolis charter schools. Martin's report also noted the gifts, dinners and trips the Niagara Foundation has lavished on Indiana officials. At the time of his report, he claimed an FBI investigation had been opened to look at the group's activities, although the local FBI office declined to confirm such an investigation when Martin inquired at the time.
Sharon Higgins of The Perimeter Primate blog recently discussed the use of all-expense guided trips to Turkey by Gulen Movement leaders as a means of influence peddling. As Higgins noted, persons who travel on those trips are not always aware of the intention of the persons sponsoring the trips. "As one photo journalist from Colorado noticed on the fourth day of travel, 'We are beginning to understand the reason for the cultural exchange; it is not simply to meet local leaders and learn about Turkish culture, but also to gain an understanding of the Gulen Movement," Higgin writes, quoting the photo journalist. 'Gain an understanding' as in acquiring the perspective fed to them by members of the Gulen Movement over the coarse of nine of 10 straight days of tightly controlled immersion.'"
News media in other states have questioned public officials accepting these junkets from the Gulen Movement. The Boise Guardian reacted sharply after learning that a group of its state's lawmakers were in Ankara, Turkey during a bomb blast there.
The local news outlets played it pretty straight yesterday when news was received that a delegation of Idaho legislators and their spouses was safe following a terrorist blast in Ankara, Turkey. This was nothing more than a junket paid for by the Turkish government in our opinion. It could be only a tourist promotion, but the Turks have been hustling public officials for several years. WHY? . . . There is also an Islamic group called the “Gulen movement” which may be using local officials as pawns in an international chess game centered around charter schools of all things.We got a call from one local official who said he turned down the offer for a free trip to Turkey–airfare was NOT covered–because it was simply against the law. The local guy told us there was so much value in the gift that it would have clearly violated the Idaho ethics law. He was invited solely based on his official position.A South Carolina blog noted an unusual participant among eight state senators who took one of the junkets to Turkey, who had good reason to not report his all-expense paid trip as required by state ethics rules:
Two weeks ago, a local political blog broke the story of eight S.C. Senators who received an all-expenses paid trip to Turkey last October. We promptly picked up the scoop … although at this point no one seems to know the purpose of the trip, which was paid for by a little-known group called the “South Carolina Dialogue Foundation.”
Also unclear? Why one lawmaker – S.C. Sen. Mike Fair (RINO-Greenville) – failed to disclose this lavish gift on his statement of economic interest, as he is required to do by law.
What gives? Well, we may have picked up a scent …
Fair, one of the state’s most notorious panderers when it comes to social issues, has been the lead sponsor of legislation aimed at eradicating the nonexistent menace of sharia (i.e. traditional Islamic) law from South Carolina courtrooms. Is sharia law currently being used in South Carolina’s courtrooms? No. Is there a snowball’s chance in hell that it ever will be? No . . .
This group isn’t just sending State Senators to Turkey, it’s sending South Carolina students, teachers and educrats there, too. In fact, the organization recently sponsored an “art and essay contest” which will send four high school students, their teachers and their superintendents on … wait for it … an “all expenses paid” trip to Turkey . . .
“The South Carolina Dialogue Foundation is one of the many organizations associated with the Gulen movement, a religious group which emerged in Turkey during the 1970s,” Higgins writes in the email. “Members follow the teachings of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric. Many people who know about the Gulen movement find its activities to be highly concerning and controversial. In some circles, the Gulen movement is viewed as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” . . .
Wow … and these guys have set up shop in South Carolina? And took the state’s preeminent Bible-thumping politician on an all-expenses paid trip? One which he failed to report?
Not only that, Gulen solicited donations to pay for these trips from Islamic donors with the promise that their money would go toward a “faithful” cause.
Hmmmm … is it becoming clear why Fair refused to follow the law and disclose his participation in this junket? We think so …See also this recent report on the Turkey trip for Tennessee lawmakers. Is there anyone in the mainstream media in Indiana who will report on the Niagara Foundation's lavish spending on our public officials and business, education, religious and community leaders to influence their opinions who hasn't already been bought off with free trips, dinners and gifts? We'll see.
UPDATE: I missed this one. The Journal-Gazette's Karen Francisco had this story two years ago:
The blog Charter School Scandals has been posting for some time on the Gulen charter schools, founded by exiled Turkish iman Fethullah Gulen. Now the reports of the schools' unusual ties and operations are coming from sources like the Philadelphia Inquirer.
There are Indiana ties. Blogger Doug Martin pulls it all together here, with some fascinating connections outlined . . .
You won't find a direct reference to Gulen on the school web site, but you will see the connection fairly quickly if you check out the links on Doug Martin's post. The most interesting is the connection between the school and the Indiana chapter of the Niagara Foundation, which seems to enjoy giving awards to powerful political leaders like Gov. Mitch Daniels, Congressman Dan Burton and former Secretary of State Todd Rokita.