Three Los Angeles charter schools up for renewal may be shuttered because of administrators’ penchant for hiring Turkish educators on temporary work visas, reports the Los Angeles Times. This comes amid broader nationwide concern about some charter schools importing Turkish teachers.
The newspaper reports that Los Angeles Unified School District will recommend to the Los Angeles Board of Education that the five-year-old schools’ contracts not be renewed. While district staff hasn’t publicly disclosed the reasons for the closures, the newspaper reports that sources say that the composition of the teaching staff was key to the decision.
Over the years, California-based Magnolia Public Schools, which runs the three schools in question as well as seven others, has gotten visas for nearly 100 teachers, almost all from Turkey, to work at their schools. The schools currently employ 37 teachers on visas, according to the Times.
The schools are part of a loosely organized nationwide network of charter schools with Turkish ties. These schools can be found all across the country, including New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Ohio and Louisiana. They are often run by Turkish immigrants and employ Turkish teachers on work visas.
In August, New York State United Teachers Spokesman Carl Korn told WNYC, New York’s NPR station, that he thinks the practice violates U.S. visa regulations.
“The visa program is supposed to be used to fill jobs that cannot be filled by American workers,” he said. “They’re filling positions for biology teachers, physical education teachers, English teachers, guidance counselors, with Turkish nationals.”
Each Magnolia employee on a visa set the schools back about $3,000, according to the L.A. Times. All together, the schools have paid nearly $1,000,000 to bring Turkish educators over.
Los Angeles school board president Steve Zimmer told the newspaper that he found the schools’ actions troubling as Magnolia didn’t originally tell the board, which authorizes the charters, that they planned to import large numbers of educators from Turkey.
“The role of an authorizer includes making sure that a charter follows the instructional and business practices outlined in its petition,” Zimmer told the Times.
Magnolia has also found itself in the middle of international politics. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused American charter schools with Turkish ties of supporting American-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the administration blames for fomenting a recent coup attempt. Umit Yapanel, the president of the board of directors of Magnolia Public Schools, has openly professed his admiration for the cleric.
WNYC talked to Robert Amsterdam, an attorney working with the Turkish government on a lawsuit against Gulen, about the proliferation of charter schools with Turkish ties.
“They all have majority Turkish board members,” Amsterdam told the station. “Number two, they only take foreign teachers from Turkey. Number three, around 75 percent of all vendors are Turkish, and normally have strong ties to Gulen.”
In the aftermath of the failed summer upraising, the Turkish government fired as many as 50,000 educators.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.