Turkish government links Youngstown charter school to terrorism

An attorney says Horizon Science Academy is being used to funnel money to groups opposed to Turkey's government

horizon science academy youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Over 100 charter schools across the country, including one in Youngstown, could have ties to an international Islamic religious movement, according to an attorney hired by the Government of Turkey.

Attorney Robert Amsterdam came to Columbus on Tuesday. He says Horizon Science Academy and others like it are being used to funnel money to groups opposed to Turkey’s government.

The Turkish government has gone a step further, calling them terrorists.

“We found, really, a tremendous pattern of abuse going on in the United States and what makes the U.S. somewhat unique is that it’s taxpayer money,” Amsterdam said.

Turkey says the religious movement is behind the failed coup attempt that killed 300 people earlier this year.

In his teachings, Cleric Fathulleh Gulen has said that “studying physics, mathematics and chemistry is worshiping God.”

Concept Schools, a charter schools management company, runs Horizon Science Academy.

Concept’s co-founder, Salim Ucan, appeared in a 2014 documentary about the Gulen movement, and says the schools are based on the desire to serve others.

“All our schools are located in urban environments. So we serve predominantly minority students and predominantly students who are coming from economically disadvantaged families,” he said in the documentary.

Concept Schools denies the allegations and says they’ve never been proven. It released the following statement in response to Amsterdam’s talk on Tuesday:

Today’s press conference held by a teachers’ union-affiliated group and a foreign agent, made numerous false allegations against the public charter schools managed by non-profit Concept Schools.

The last time this group made such allegations about Concept Schools, state education officials and the Auditor of State’s office found them to be incorrect and false. We expect the same will occur with these latest allegations.

Sadly, these false allegations undermine the hard work and success of our students, many of whom already face serious challenges.

Buckeye Community Hope Foundation is the sponsor for the nine charter schools that Concept currently operates in Ohio. Its associate director of the education division, Jennifer Robison, says they have never seen any indication of misconduct in relation to the schools.

On Tuesday, Attorney Amsterdam said one way Concept Schools takes advantage of the system is through its real estate company, “New Plan Learning.”

“Schools in Ohio, often under the New Horizons moniker, essentially pay double and triple the market rent, moving the money into the movement itself,” he said.

One of New Plan’s companies bought the Horizon Science Academy building in 2010, the year the school opened, for $550,000. Three years later, the company sold it to New Horizon for $980,000.

All of New Horizon’s money comes from state and federal grants.

Robison says the purchase was above board.

“A lot of our schools go into buildings that are old Catholic schools, and it does take a lot of lease hold improvements to bring the building up to code.”

Fathulleh Gulen is living in exile in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. Turkey has asked for his extradition, saying he runs a terrorist organization. The U.S. is considering the request, but says Gulen is not involved in acts of terror.

Local lawmakers are calling for charter school reform, saying they should be held to the same standards as public schools.

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