Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Harmony schools causing discord

These schools are common throughout Texas and related schools have opened up in many parts of the US as well as the rest of the world. It's interesting to see that Muslim missionaries are using many of the strategies that were used previously by western missionaries. This article talks about some of the controversy regarding these schools:

"The 36 schools that make up the Harmony charter school network are among the highest-rated in Texas. But despite its glowing academic record, Harmony has received a flurry of criticism for its business practices. In particular, the charter network's reliance on visas for Turkish-born staff and use of Turkish-owned businesses for construction and other contracts has raised questions about how it spends taxpayer money and whether it is too insular.

In just more than a decade, Harmony Public Schools, operated by the Cosmos Foundation of Houston, has grown to become one of the largest charter school networks in Texas, serving about 16,700 students last school year. Two schools, with about 900 students last year, are in San Antonio. Some Harmony critics point to a burgeoning number of Turkish-American-led charter networks in the United States, more than 120 in 25 states, that they say are tied to Islamic political leader Fethullah Gulen.
“The only crime is that they're Turkish,” State Board of Education member and early Harmony supporter David Bradley said. “And in Texas, that is not a crime.” From 2008 to 2010, the Labor Department certified 1,197 H-1B visa requests from the Cosmos Foundation — more than double the number of visas certified nationwide for Texas-based computer company Dell USA and about 70 percent as many as were certified for tech giant Apple Inc.

Those certifications were forwarded to the Homeland Security Department for final approval. The visas are intended to attract foreign workers with skills that are in short supply among American workers. Harmony has about 290 employees working on H-1B visas, or 16 percent of its workforce, according to Superintendent Soner Tarim. Most are Turkish, said Tarim, who is also from Turkey. Few other Texas school districts hire significant numbers of workers on H-1B visas.

Like most charter school operators, Harmony's first schools opened in former stores and spaces leased from churches. Harmony still operates some storefront campuses, but over time began to build its own schools using money from the sale of public bonds.
Tarim bristled at the implication that the charter network was giving much of its work to a closed circle of Turkish-owned businesses.

“That's actually a misconception,” he said. The Cosmos Foundation does award many contracts to businesses owned by non-Turks. But in recent years, eight of the charter network's 10 largest contracts have gone to just two companies, both of which have close ties to Cosmos: the Houston-based contracting firms Solidarity Contracting and TDM Contracting."

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