Concept Schools: now a multinational school management corporation
Mixing non-profit, for-profit and religion
by C.A.S.I.L.I.P.S. - Citizens Against Special Interest Lobbying in Public Schools
The original architects of the charter school movement probably never imagined that it would lead to multinational corporations running publicly-funded American schools, or that these companies would simultaneously form partnerships with for-profit companies. Nor was it originally envisioned that some of these for-profit companies would also be operating schools with a religious slant. Yet that is exactly what is happening.
Concept Schools, a non-profit that was formed in Ohio, currently manages over 20 charter schools in Ohio and other states in the Midwest. This includes the Horizon Science Academy schools and Chicago Math and Science Academy among others. Concept Schools has gone multinational, and moreover has complex ties to several overseas for-profit corporations; some of these connections are outlined below.
Concept Schools is connected to Concept Schools International, operating schools in the United Arab Emirates
An article dated April 20, 2010 appearing in AMEinfo.com (a leading online source of business news in the Middle East) stated that “After ten years of operations in the USA, Concept Schools International, in joint venture with Bin Ham Group, is now operating the brand new 'United School of Al Yahar in Al Ain.” Bin Ham Group is a private conglomerate based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, active in the petroleum, financial services, general contracting, tourism, hotel and real estate sectors among others. Further text in the article leaves no doubt that this is the same Concept Schools operating Gulen charter schools in the United States: “Dr. Taner F. Ertekin, Chairman of Concept Schools International said, ‘Concept Schools International is a management company that reshapes the K-12 schools through the use of own unique education design. We follow the model of Concept Schools, a Chicago-based educational management and consulting company,...’” Taner Ertekin was one of the founders of the first Horizon Science Academy school in Ohio. The Concept Schools logo pictured in this article is identical to the logo of the US-based Concept Schools.
The webpage of the United School of Al-Yahar states that “United School is a branch of an international school network which has 21 schools in USA.” This is a clear reference to the Concept Schools network.
The Wikimapia page for the United School of Al-Yahar describes the school as “A KG-12 International School, which is a part of successful school management company based in the United States.”
Yet a Zaman newspaper article of Dec 5, 2010 (in Turkish) describes Concept Schools International as a Turkish company.
The website of the United School of Al-Yahar shows that its afterschool club offerings include two religious clubs; one is called Qu’ran-i Kareem and the other is called Qu’ran Kareem.
Concept Schools International uses the for-profit company Oxford Vision to recruit English-speaking teachers; this company recruits for Gulen schools worldwide and also markets Islamic holiday packages
A for-profit company named Oxford Vision is recruiting teachers for the United School of Al Yahar. It turns out that Oxford Vision, established in 1995 and based in the United Kingdom, recruits English teachers for all the Gulen schools worldwide. This is even admitted in the company's advertisement, which states “We are the official UK representative of a global schools network consisting of around 500 private schools, universities and language centres all over the world.” The global network referred to here is the network of Fethullah Gulen and his followers. Oxford Vision’s website further adds: “In addition to our office in London, we have partner offices in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Ghana, Germany and China.” Of course, all these countries have Gulen schools (with the possible exception of China, so far).
Interestingly, Oxford Vision is involved in more than just teacher recruitment. The full name of the company is Oxford Vision Education Business and Tourism Ltd. One of the non-educational products offered by the company is the “Sun, Sea & Halal – 5 Day Islamic Beach Holiday,” promising a Turkey getaway for Muslims residing in England that accommodates their religious sensitivities.
Concept Schools International partners with for-profit Emirates company
Another Emirates company, Jouri Investments, announced on its website on January 26, 2010 that it was partnering with Concept Schools International, which it termed an “education provider and school management company,” and also with the Fujairah Welfare Association, to open the United School of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates’ fourth largest city. Jouri Investments is a for-profit investment company involved in real estate and retail management.
Concept Schools International connection to for-profit Universal Future Education
The Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Concept Schools International is Esref Temel. Temel, who sometimes spells his name as Ashraf Tamil, has a background in finance, and is also the chief operations manager at Universal Future Education, a for-profit company based in Abu Dhabi. The website of Universal Future Education describes the company as a “global education services company working with partners whose business is education.” UFE’s website also says that its clients include public schools, private schools, educational institutions and organizations, and government.
On August 20, 2010, it was reported in gulfnews.com that the Abu Dhabi Education Council had provided a building for a school initially called the “6th of August,” targeting the Filipino population, and operated by Universal Future Education (UFE). Esref Temel is again named as the operations manager of UFE. The new school is expected to attract around 1300 students according to the article, which said it was working on renaming itself the “Abu Dhabi Philippine Academy.” An August 11, 2010 article on the AMEinfo.com news website stated that “Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) has selected Universal Future Education (UFE), an education services company with qualified educators and consultants, to operate two new low-fee private schools utilising vacant government school facilities.” In addition to the Abu Dhabi Philippine Academy mentioned above, UFE is to operate the Saad bin Obaidah School located in Baniyas, with anticipated enrollment of over a thousand students.
Concept Schools already has a history of questionable relationships with domestic for-profit companies
In addition to the above connections or partnerships with overseas for-profit corporations, Concept Schools had ties to the US-based for-profit real-estate corporation Breeze. A 2006 IRS Form 990 for Concept lists Vedat Akgun as the Board President, and shows Concept as owing Breeze $329,060 and $152,588 at the beginning and end of the year, respectively. Vedat Akgun was the owner of Breeze, which leased buildings to Horizon Science Academy schools, which in turn were managed by Concept Schools. The irregularity of the related-party deals between Horizon Science Academy and Breeze was cited in a September 2010 report by Policy Matters Ohio entitled “Authorized Abuse: Sponsors, Management and Ohio Charter Law.” (This report also quoted Greg Richmond of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers as saying that Ohio law has allowed for the “most breathtaking abuse in the nation.”) More recently, Vedat Akgun’s company New Plan Learning was seeking to obtain $90,000,000 in bonds through a questionable arrangement with Pima County, Arizona; the funds were to be used by New Plan Learning to make improvements on building facilities occupied by Horizon Science Academy and other Concept schools. (See this page for further information on these financial connections and irregularities.)
How can taxpayers be assured that U.S. education money is not being used for overseas interests or for supporting religion?
All the above connections raise serious questions about how Americans can be assured that their charter school funds are not somehow ending up in the coffers of overseas for-profit corporations without any benefit to American students. US citizens have limited ability to access records of foreign corporations, and these corporations may not be accountable under American laws. Moreover, the fact that the US non-profit Concept is linked to an international network running a school that promotes religion raises serious concerns about separation of church and state.
At present, the only publicly accessible IRS Form 990 for any entity called Concept Schools on either the website of the Foundation Center or the National Center for Charitable Statistics is a single form from 2006 for Concept Schools-NFP in Illinois. This form shows a “bad debts writeoff” of $450,000, which amounts to 23% of the revenue for that year; it is unclear who the creditor was who essentially received this amount of money from Concept as a gift. Charter management contracts show that Concept Schools receives 10% of all revenue of the more than 20 publicly-funded charter schools it manages. It is clear that its budget has grown significantly since 2006, yet the general public has no window into its finances. Concept Schools-NFP in Illinois is currently listed as not in good standing by the Office of the Secretary of State of Illinois. There is another entity named Concept Schools -Ohio, but none of its IRS Form 990s can currently be found on the websites of the Foundation Center or the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
In the growth of Concept as a multinational business, a “concept” has been lost along the way – that is, the original vision of charter schools as providing increased accountability, as well as the flexibility to respond to local needs. Further, it is certain that current charter regulatory mechanisms are inadequate to cope with the potential for abuse inherent in the complex transnational connections outlined above.