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Liars For Yahweh! How the Tikun Olam Charter School Got a $600,000 Federal Grant

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Now, you'd think that since providing documentation of a "lease, mortgage or title to its facility" is required to open a charter school, this little matter of Ms. Akman not having the facility she claims to have would have squashed her chances for approval, right? Wrong! Tikun Olam made it through the NJ Department of Education's first round of cuts in December, which left 17 of the 42 schools that applied in October (which was Akman's fourth try) in the running for approval.

But, as the New York Times reported last week, the lie about having secured this Catholic church as the location for their school was just one of many lies told by Akman and company, who also claimed to have the support of and/or agreements with quite a few other individuals and institutions that they didn't have the support of or agreements with. But, of course, with the federal government's prohibition on looking at any sources outside of the information provided by the grant applicant, none of the letters from these people and institutions denying that they supported the school could be taken into consideration when making the decision to approve a $600,000 grant to the school!

Akman also claimed in her application to have a relationship with the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, although the Associate General Counsel at Rutgers wrote the following e-mail on May 26, 2011 stating that the museum has no relationship with the school.

You recently sent me a letter inquiring as to whether the Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School founders have "established relationships" with the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum" of Rutgers University as claimed in its charter school application.

The application does not describe what kind of relationship the founders have with the Museum. They could be members, they could be contributors, they could volunteer for the Museum. There is, however, no formal relationship between the founders in their capacity as founders of Tikun Olam and the Museum.

I called Ms. Akman and she confirmed that there was no formal relationship with the Museum.

And yet, even after acknowledging in May that her charter school had no formal relationship with the museum, Akman has continued to claim, in both her October 2011 state application and her federal grant application, that the school has an established relationship with the museum.

Then there's the support that Akman claims from Assemblyman Peter Barnes and Jun Choi, a former mayor of Edison, another town that would be affected by her school. Akman claims in her application that Barnes and Choi "promised to help make connections and build a diverse student body." But both Barnes and Choi have made it clear that they do not support the school and never gave Akman any such promise of assistance. Neither did Heather Ngoma, the African-American Director of the New Jersey Charter School Resource Center, another alleged supporter claimed by Akman.

As the Times article said in reference to the federal policy of not allowing outside sources to be used in determining whether or not a charter school should get a federal grant:

"[I]f Ms. Akman writes that Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III supports the charter, the federal consultants are not permitted to interview Mr. Barnes, who would have been happy to tell them that he does not.

"This prohibition against using outside information is intended to ensure that no special measures are taken to either favor or hinder an applicant, although what it really invites is fiction writing."

Akman, who has made almost no public statements since the fight to stop her charter school began, declined to speak to the Times, but did give a rare statement to News12 New Jersey regarding her claims about the support of Assemblyman Barnes and former Edison mayor Choi, saying, "We're not misrepresenting anybody. If they subsequently changed their mind about it, that's a different thing. But we did not misrepresent them." Really? They flip-flopped? Is that Akman's explanation for the statements of non-support from the Bishop of Metuchen and the director's of the Zimmerli Art Museum too?

Other claims made by Akman include the alleged support of New Brunswick's predominantly Hispanic and black community, although no community survey has been done and the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., the Civic League of Greater New Brunswick, and the Puerto Rican Action Board all do not support the school; the crazy notion that a Hebrew school will appeal to low-income Muslims; and that the school will serve students with problems such as "poverty, crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, academic failure, dropouts, gangs, and other challenges," as well as special needs students, all without even having as much as a single guidance counselor on its staff. As for its plans on how it will get qualified teachers and provide anything even close to the education available in our public schools, well those aren't really clear either, but the details of all of that pesky 'how on earth are these people going to provide anything like an adequate education?' stuff would require a whole other post.

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Chris Rodda is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History.
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