. . . Concept Schools, founded by followers of a Turkish Islamic cleric secluded in the Poconos, already is under federal and state scrutiny for possible irregularities in teacher licensing, testing and technology contracts.
An Enquirer investigation has found that Chicago-based Concept Schools, which runs Horizon and 17 other charter schools in Ohio, annually imports dozens of foreign teachers in numbers that far surpass any other school system in the state.
At least 474 foreign teachers, again mostly from Turkey, have arrived at Concept's Ohio schools between 2005 and 2013. The schools are collecting about $45 million in state funds annually to educate 6,600 children in kindergarten through high school.
Critics say H-1B visas were designed to help companies temporarily employ highly skilled foreign workers in biotechnology, chemistry, engineering and other specialized fields – not K-12 teachers.
The Ohio Department of Education is weighing complaints from former Concept staffers that unlicensed, foreign teachers were used.
Ohio teachers, meanwhile, say plenty of qualified teachers are available for jobs being filled by the foreigners, especially since about 40,000 are still without teaching jobs because of the recession.
Concept officials defend the practice. They say it's the only way to find qualified math and science instructors, adding that the international teachers add to the cultural experience of students.
"These teachers are hired legally and are here legally," company vice president Salim Ucan said. "It's not like we're sneaking them across the borders. These are highly qualified people who have gone through the legal process to come here and make a difference in the lives of kids."
Academically, Concept students perform no better or worse than children at the nearly 300 other charter schools in Ohio.
Ten of the Ohio Concept schools – more than half – received Ds on the state's most recent performance index, a measure of how many students passed key achievement tests . . .The report finds that other public schools which hire H-1B workers tend to hire them primarily to teach foreign language skills. Concept Schools hired 69 teachers to work this year on H-1B visa in Ohio alone, which represented about 12% of its total teaching staff. Almost all of those H-1B employees came from Turkey. Those who originated from other countries generally came from countries near Turkey. "Concept's Ucan acknowledged that Concept targets Turkish workers, but only because 'we're from Turkey, and that is where we have comfort,'" the Enquirer reported. "The founders of this organization are Turkish and are established Turkish-Americans," said Ucan, who said he originally came to the U.S. on an H-1B visa and is now nearly finished applying for U.S. citizenship. "Because of that relationship, it is much easier to recruit from Turkey. It would be much more difficult to go to China or other countries because we do not have the relationships here."
The Enquirer notes that the FBI raided Concept Schools in Ohio and two other states in May and June of this year as part of a federal probe of the schools' relationship with several technology vendors. The Indiana Math & Science Academy's northside Indianapolis campus was raided by the FBI in June as part of that investigation. Ohio education administrators are also weighing whether to open an investigation into allegations that Concept Schools are using unlicensed teachers to teach at charter schools in Ohio. "One former Concept teacher and a former administrator from a separate Concept school previously have said publicly that unlicensed teachers were common at their schools," the Enquirer reported. The report also included allegations of teachers being forced to pay tributes to the Gulen Movement under the table as a condition of their employment and visit the Turkish Muslim cleric Fethuallah Gulen at his secluded compound in the Poconos. Gulen successfully sought asylum in the U.S. after the Turkish government grew concerned that he was seeking to overthrow the government. Gulen has amassed a multi-billion dollar fortune since arriving in the United States.