Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Texas education officials have rejected allegations of financial malfeasance and other misconduct raised by the Turkish government against Houston-based Harmony Public Schools, the nation's second-largest charter network.
The Texas Education Agency dismissed a complaint filed in May by lawyers working for the Republic of Turkey in May and notified the lawyers that the complaint “does not warrant a TEA investigation,” according to a letter sent by the agency on Friday.
The London-based Amsterdam & Partners, which was representing the Turkish government, had alleged that Harmony routinely discriminates against special-needs and bilingual students, pays Turkish-born teachers — including males — more than their American counterparts, misuses the H-1B visa program, violates competitive bidding laws and misuses state and federal funds. Harmony officials have previously said the allegations — ones the charter network has faced before — are unsubstantiated.
In the letter, the education agency said a complaint review found that an investigation wasn't needed and that the matter is concluded.
The TEA also noted that it only considered two of several allegations made by lawyers for the Turkish government, because the others were "outside the jurisdiction" of the agency.
Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer working on behalf of the Turkish government, said in a statement that the review failed to address the substance of "numerous glaring irregularities" because the agency said it did not have the authority to assess all the allegations.
"If the TEA is unable to investigate these egregious abuses by Harmony Public Schools, then we must refer the matter to other state authorities," Amsterdam said.
Harmony, which focuses on science and math education, is the largest charter network in Texas. It operates 46 schools here, with nearly 31,000 students enrolled. Officials for the charter network have insisted that the complaint is a politically motivated attack.
The Republic of Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is severing ties with old allies and waging a well-documented war against critics, hired Amsterdam & Partners last fall “to conduct a global investigation into the activities of the organization led by moderate Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen,” according to the law firm's website. Gülen, a former Erdogan ally, is a reclusive Turkish expatriate living in Pennsylvania whom news reports have linked to Harmony and other U.S. charter schools.
Founded by a group of Turkish professors and businessmen, the charter network came under fire about five years ago when the New York Times and 60 Minutes ran pieces exploring possible connections between the rapidly growing charter school network and Gülen, who reportedly encourages his followers to promote science and math education.
The reports detailed the network’s overwhelming use of Turkish teachers and Turkish-owned contractors and raised questions about fair hiring and bidding practices.
Harmony officials have vehemently denied any connection to Gülen.
On Monday, Robert Schulman, a Harmony attorney, criticized the Turkish government for its “attack” against a public school system and said its request for a state review of “42 pages of phony accusations is simply wrong.”
“The flagrant lies spread by these foreign agents are unconscionable,” Schulman said in a statement. “I have been working with charter schools in Texas for 20 years, and I have never seen anything like this.”
Read some of our related coverage:
- In May, lawyers prepared to file a complaint with the Texas Education Agency next week against Harmony Public Schools.
- Two months after lawyers for the Republic of Turkey filed a complaint against Harmony Public Schools, a high-ranking state representative asked the Texas Attorney General to investigate allegations against the state’s largest charter school network.
Disclosure: Harmony Public Schools has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. Find a complete list of donors and sponsors here.