As many readers of this blog are aware, my law firm is currently engaged in a global investigation into the unlawful activities of a secretive organization overseen by Fethullah Gülen, who controls some 150 U.S. charter schools through opaque fronts. Part of this investigation has brought us to Texas, where the Gülen-affiliated Harmony Public Schools has been found to be allegedly engaging widespread abuse of the H1B visa program, misappropriation of public funds, and discrimination against certain students and families. These egregious violations of law were detailed in a complaint filed before the Texas Education Agency (read in full here), and whistleblowers continue to come forward to us with more and more surprising revelations of misconduct at Harmony.
Shortly following the issuance of the TEA complaint, and again following a recent interview I gave on Fox 5 DC, Harmony Public Schools has circulated a response statement containing a wide variety of false claims. Here we address the facts, point by point.
Harmony claim: “The allegations filed today (May 24) with the Texas Education Agency by an agent of the President of Turkey are nothing more than a politically-motivated re-hash of old claims and complaints that have been heard and investigated previously and found to be without merit.”
- False. Harmony was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014 for employment discrimination based on gender (favoring males) and national origin (favoring Turkish). Harmony settled the lawsuit, promising to remedy its practices to eliminate employment discrimination, however 2015-2016 salary data from the TEA shows that Turkish males still dominate positions of leadership and are often paid more than their colleagues with similar degrees and years of experience. This previous investigation was settled because of its merit, and the latest year’s data shows that Harmony continues to discriminate on gender and national origin basis.
- False. Harmony has never been investigated for its procurement practices to ensure that fair and open bidding requirements are being met. Because Harmony routinely and throughout its history has shown favoritism to Turkish-owned/operated businesses for their largest contracts, many of which are owned by former Harmony employees, this circumstantial evidence points to a need to investigate Harmony’s procurement practices. This is particularly necessary in light of Harmony’s documented preference for Turkish employees and the fact that the Harmony bidding review committee is comprised of all Turkish males.
- False. Harmony’s use of the H-1B visa program to facilitate the immigration of large numbers of Turkish nationals to Texas has never been investigated. Harmony classifies itself as H-1B dependent, meaning 15% or more of its workforce has been obtained through the H-1B program, and as such, Harmony is required to attest that it could not find qualified U.S. citizens to fill the jobs hired through the H-1B program. Since Harmony has used the H-1B program to hire positions where there are not documented shortages, such as physical education teachers, budget analysts, legal counsel, counselors, English teachers, and more, Harmony may be in violation of the H-1B program’s requirements.
- False. Harmony has been investigated by the Office of Civil Rights for discrimination against students because of the significant underrepresentation of students with special needs and English-language learners. Harmony voluntarily entered into a consent decree because the investigation had merit and agreed to remove barriers to these students’ entry into Harmony schools. Since this settlement, Harmony has not been investigated to ensure that these discriminatory barriers were in fact removed.
Harmony claim: “Harmony Public Schools have no affiliation of any kind with any religious or social organizations or movements.”
- False. Harmony’s leadership and the leadership of Harmony’s preferred Turkish vendors have numerous ties with individuals and cultural organizations affiliated with Fethullah Gulen. Furthermore, Harmony’s leadership and the leadership of Harmony’s preferred Turkish vendors have numerous affiliations within the Turkish community in Texas which brings into question whether Harmony is using its state and federal tax dollars to support Turkish-owned/operated businesses due to their cultural connections in violation of open and competitive bidding requirements.
Harmony claim: “Harmony’s procurement process is done according to Texas state law and is, in fact, outsourced and managed by the Harris County Department of Education.”
- We disagree. The circumstantial evidence provided in the TEA complaint show numerous affiliations between individuals in Harmony’s leadership and the leadership of Harmony’s preferred Turkish vendors. This plus the fact that Harmony has paid over 150 million dollars to Turkish-owned/operated businesses out of the 200 million spent on major contracts in the last fifteen years indicates a strong preference for vendors of the same national origin as Harmony’s leadership, which is in violation of Texas’s open and competitive bidding requirements. Furthermore, it is unclear whether Harmony utilizes Harris County Department of Education for all or just select bidding processes, and being that Harmony’s own financial documents include the meeting minutes from all Turkish-male bidding review committees, there is evidence that Harmony conducts at least some of its own procurement. More information was requested from Harmony regarding its procurement practices through public information requests, which Harmony disregarded and refused to comply with in whole.
Harmony claim: “In Texas, no state or taxpayer funds are used to acquire or build school facilities for any charter school – that money is raised in the bond market, where Harmony enjoys a AAA rating, the highest rating possible – and awarded only after intense financial scrutiny.”
- Misleading. Money obtained through bonds is not free. Harmony must repay those bonds with its revenues earned from state, local, and federal tax dollars. Harmony cannot circumvent Texas law’s requirements to utilize state tax dollars in open, competitive bidding processes by stating that the money Harmony uses to enrich its affiliated Turkish construction companies were not tax funds but instead bond money, when that bond money will later be paid back with tax funds.
Harmony claim: “Harmony’s rate of teachers under H-1B visas, which are authorized and issued by the U.S. federal government after extensive vetting, is seven (7) percent and decreasing every year.”
- False, Misleading. Harmony self-identifies as H-1B dependent, which means that at least 15% of its workforce were procured through the H-1B program. Furthermore, it is unclear what the 7% number above is in reference to—the amount of H-1B applications filed each year as compared to the larger Harmony workforce, or the amount of H-1B applications awarded. Also, many former H-1B employees have likely transitioned to more permanent visa arrangements and immigration statuses, such as through green card applications. Harmony’s statement above does not change the fact that Harmony states it uses H-1B to hire for math and science positions that it cannot find qualified Texan educators for, yet routinely uses H-1B applications to hire for non-math/science positions of which no documented shortages exist. This is in violation of the H-1B program’s requirements for H-1B dependent employers such as Harmony, which state that Harmony must ensure that no qualified U.S. citizens are available to staff a position before utilizing the H-1B program.