MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton won't be able to open several charter schools this coming year because the state ran out of money for his operations. The former mayor says one reason he thinks it happened is over allegations that a company he is considering working with has ties to a Turkish Islamic group.
Harmony Schools of Innovation operate charter schools in the southwest, and one in Memphis. There have been allegations over the years that they put money into the hands of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher who describes himself as a peaceful Muslim
But Herenton says one reason he thinks the state ran out of funding for his schools is because people in Nashville are linking Herenton with the Turk.
The man is an educator. It is how he started his professional career and it's how he's ending it.
"Very few people care about kids that are at the bottom," Herenton said. "I came from the bottom. I have a deep passion for helping these kids do better."
This is the reason Willie Herenton is working.
He's gone to the unified school board to get permits for charter schools, and was turned down along with a group of other charter applicants. He then went to the state and got his permits.
But while the other schools received start up money from Tennessee, when they got to the former mayor he was told, 'Sorry, we're out of money.'
"You know what this is really about? It's about power, control and money," he said.
Herenton isn't certain, but thinks the lack of money might be because of Harmony Schools.
It is headquartered in Texas; Harmony also operates one school in Tennessee. The group is controversial. Critics say they hire mostly Turkish teachers, buy Turkish furniture, and the money goes to support what is called the Gulen Movement. Gulen is what has been called a moderate form of Islam, with a goal of becoming world wide.
Critics say the followers are using Harmony Schools to get a foothold in the U.S. But, there has never been direct evidence linking the schools to the group, and the schools do not teach religion.
Herenton stated, "We do not have any relationship with Harmony. Harmony is mentioned as a potential strategic partner. I want to make a statement that from all ongoing research it is an outstanding charter managing organization."
Herenton said if he had ties to this group, which has been very successful in Texas, he wouldn't need the state's help for money. They'd fund the schools. But there is no relationship between the former mayor and Harmony Schools, so there is no money.