Turkey’s parliament passed legislation to shut down private preparatory schools many of which are an important source of income and influence for an Islamic cleric Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accuses of running a covert campaign to topple him.
Lawmakers late on Friday set a deadline of September 1, 2015, to close the schools, news channels reported, which millions of students attend to prepare for entrance examinations to win limited spots at state high schools and universities.
The government has accused cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers wield influence in the police and judiciary, of concocting a corruption scandal to compromise Erdogan and his government.
The scandal broke with police raids on December 17 but ties between the ex-allies have been tense for several years.
The government’s initial moves to shut down cram centers late last year escalated those tensions ahead of March 30 municipal election, seen as a critical test of support for Erdogan after 11 years in power.
Education is central to US-based Gulen’s Hizmet, or Service, movement’s mission. Their respected prep schools help spread influence across a nationwide network, and shutting them will deprive Hizmet of a chief source of financing.
Followers of Gulen, who preaches respect for science, democracy and dialog with other faiths, have forged a powerful socio-religious community network active. Gulen, who says he has no plans to form a political party, denies any involvement in the corruption investigation.
Erdogan has said that abolishing the cram schools is part of a larger reform of an “unhealthy” educational system that ranks Turkey below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average in literacy, maths and science.
The law allows some of the cram schools to become private schools, giving them free access to properties that belong to the Treasury, and for the Education Ministry to recruit some of the teachers to work in public schools.