The roadblock to Speaker Jeremy Gillam’s bill to reopen the door for to free foreign travel for legislators happened to arise as I read of one solid investment of foreign money in state legislative travel.
The Center for Public Integrity reports here on foreign travel that seems to have paid dividends for a Turkish charter school operation. Key findings:
At least 151 state legislators from 29 states toured Turkey between 2006 and 2015 on subsidized trips thanks to more than two dozen nonprofits associated with the Gulen movement, a Turkish religious movement led by an Islamic cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.
Since 2011, state lawmakers in 23 states have introduced at least 54 resolutions honoring Turkey or Turkish Americans, some of which specifically praised Gulen or Gulen-movement organizations.
Legislators oversee education policies and budgets — including for charter schools. Friends of the Gulen movement run a loose network of roughly 160 publicly funded charter schools in 26 states and the District of Columbia.
Arkansas legislators were on the list al from the period before the constitutional amendment put the end to foreign travel. Enjoying trips to Turkey, according to the report, were five Democratic legislators — Fred Allen, Joan Cash, Steve Harrelson, Jimmy Jeffress, Bruce Maloch, Johnnie Roebuck and Robbie Wills (only Maloch remains in the legislature) and two Republicans, Karen Hopper and now-Secretary of State Mark Martin.
Arkansas is home to a charter schools operation that has been identified as tied to the Turkish charter school movement in the U.S. — the LISA Academy charter schools in Little Rock and North Little Rock, which operate with public funds and recently approved for an expansion in Little Rock. LISA disputes direct ties to the Gulen movement, though its Turkish roots have been evident from its beginning. It has defended hiring a significant number of Turkish teachers on visas because of a lack of qualified math and science teachers in the U.S.