China's vice chair Xi Jinping unveils a plaque at the opening of Australia's first Chinese Medicine Confucius Institute at the RMIT University in Melbourne on June 20, 2010. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has funded Chinese language teaching programs in at least 143 K-12 school districts in 34 states and the District of Columbia, according to a report by Parents Defending Education (PDE), a parent activist group, released on Wednesday.
PDE identifies these Confucius classrooms as “little red classrooms,” an extension of the Confucius Institutes (CIs). CIs are partially funded by the CCP, which picks and pays for textbooks and selects and pays Chinese nationals who come to the United States to teach Chinese language, culture, and history.
In August 2020, the State Department designated CIs’ D.C.-based headquarters as a “foreign mission” of China based on the CIs’ “skewed Chinese language and cultural training for U.S. students as part of Beijing’s multifaceted propaganda efforts,” and that the CI language programs were under guidance from the CCP’s United Front Work Department, the leading agency in charge of influence operations.
“This is not to imply that all Chinese language programs in K-12 schools are evil by any stretch,” Nicole Neily, president of PDE, told The Epoch Times.
“But people should know who is involved in the curriculum, who has oversight, and where their teachers are coming from,” she added. “If the teachers are coming over and have been blessed and approved by Han Ban, then that should raise questions for parents as to what children are learning.
“What version of Chinese history are they learning? Are they learning a one-child or a One China policy? Are they learning about Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Uyghurs, or are they getting a very sanitized version of China?”
Han Ban was known as the CI headquarters. In July 2020, it announced the transfer of CIs to the Chinese International Education Foundation, a self-described “non-governmental charitable organization.” According to a 2023 report (pdf) by the Congressional Research Service, both entities are sponsored by the CCP’s Ministry of Education.
Raising Awareness and Calling for Investigations
Ms. Neily said PDE’s primary objective of raising awareness has been partially achieved. Parents in the school districts named in the report findings contacted PDE with more information and questions.
Beyond equipping families with “complete information” to make educational decisions, Ms. Neily also wants the federal government and governors to investigate the Confucius Institutes in K-12 education.
Currently, the Higher Education Act requires universities to disclose foreign contributions above $250,000. However, there are no similar stipulations for K-12 schools.
After the State Department called out CIs in 2020, 105 CIs in U.S. universities either closed or announced closures, according to a report in June 2022. However, the report by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a conservative research and advocacy organization, warned that China had rebranded its CIs in U.S. universities; at least 38 colleges have replaced their closed CI programs with similar alternatives.
Several lawmakers have reacted to the PDE findings.
Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R- N.C.) said in a statement: “It remains our solemn responsibility to slap away the hands of malign foreign actors whenever they attempt to interfere in America’s classrooms. No matter where they may live in our nation, parents deserve reassurance that their children will not be subjected to the propaganda of our nation’s adversaries. Malign doctrine has no place in America’s schools.”
On Wednesday, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) wrote a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, calling for a Department of Education investigation into the CCP’s influence in K-12 classrooms per the PDE report.
Ms. Neily is pleased with the reactions from lawmakers but said, “We would love to have more people to weigh in.”
“In our mind, this is the tip of the iceberg.” She said the PDE findings from four months of research would not have captured the entire picture of the “little red classrooms.”
“I don’t want to put out research just to kind of shout into the darkness; I would like people to do something about it,” she added. “If there were hearings, that would be great.”
She also wants the U.S. Department of Education to take the issue seriously. “Transparency should not be a partisan issue. For families to be able to make informed decisions should be something that every politician should get behind,” she said.