In the summer, Parents Defending Education (PDE) released an investigative report called Little Red Classrooms that shows how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has infiltrated American K-12 schools.

The report found that the Chinese government had affiliations with 143 school districts across 34 states and Washington, D.C.. One of the most concerning findings is that 20 of those districts are near military bases, raising alarms that the Chinese government may have access to the data of military personnel’s children. Over $17 million in total has passed from the Chinese government to American K-12 schools. For instance, a nonprofit linked to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology received over $3.6 million in financial aid from Chinese government-affiliated entities.

At the end of the report, PDE urged state and federal officials to launch investigations to figure out how much the Chinese government is involved in the United States’ K-12 education and make these investigations public so that parents and families can make knowledgeable decisions about their children’s education. When the PDE report found that a school district in Oklahoma had ties to the CCP, Ryan Walters, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, conducted a further investigation, which exposed “Through a series of nonprofits, that school district maintains an active connection with the CCP through a program called Confucius Classrooms, even after the federal government cracked down on similar programs in 2020.” Confucius Classrooms have partnerships between K-12 schools, universities or nonprofits, and a Chinese government entity. 

PDE also called on congressional committees to hold hearings on this topic. That call was answered when the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Aaron Bean, held a hearing this week on “Academic Freedom Under Attack: Loosening the CCP’s Grip on America’s Classrooms.” Michael Gonzalez with the Heritage Foundation, Gisela Perez Kusakawa with the Asian American Scholar Forum, Nicole Neily with PDE, and Ryan Walters with the Oklahoma State Department of Education all testified before the subcommittee.    

The hearing revolved around the report, emphasizing that the CCP’s involvement in K-12 education threatens—as Chairman Bean said—”America’s national, geopolitical, and academic interests.”

The majority witnesses and many committee members, including Rep. Michelle Steel, a first-generation Korean American,  were careful to distinguish between the Chinese government and the Chinese people and their culture and language. American schools should teach Mandarin and true history about China, especially how the Chinese people are oppressed. That is not the same as allowing the Chinese government to whitewash its history and use propaganda to influence, fund, and gain access to American schools.

Neily put this distinction well: 

We are not saying that students shouldn’t have access to foreign language programs. That is not what’s happening whatsoever. We are saying that parents deserve to know who is funding these programs, so that they can decide whether they want their children to participate at all.

Although some committee members made this out to be a partisan issue, recent polling shows otherwise. Polling from PDE found that 87% of respondents felt that school districts should be required to disclose when they accept money from foreign governments, 73% felt it was inappropriate for schools to share data with foreign governments that fund school programs, and 73% disagreed that schools should be allowed to charge tens of thousands of dollars to parents seeking information about foreign funding. When Neily requested documents from Fairfax County public schools, she was originally quoted over $35,000.    

Neily emphasized that the biggest problem is a knowledge problem: “We need to get our arms around the scope of this problem. … We don’t know how much money is coming. We don’t know where it is going. We don’t know where it still exists. Once we have that basic information, then we can start to address it.” Then it will be up to local communities and individuals to determine what to do with that information.

One solution to this problem that Oklahoma’s State Department of Education has implemented is to require every school district to disclose if they receive any money from a foreign government. They must also report any funds from a nonprofit because the Chinese government has often used affiliated nonprofits to fund schools. Walters called on other states to follow suit. Already, colleges must reveal gifts from a foreign source that are $50,000 or more, and Neily urged Congress to require K-12 schools to do the same thing but at a lower threshold.

The minority witness and Representatives sought to brush aside the influence of the CCP in American education multiple times by citing a Senate report from 2019. But as Neily declared, “The world has changed a lot since then. We know a lot more, and I urge the Congressional Research Service to update that report.” 

Superintendent Walters hit the nail on the head when he said, “Taxpayer dollars should follow a child to where the parent chooses to send a child. I believe parents know best for kids. … There is no better oversight than a parent having the ability to choose the school for their child. They are the best accountability officers for our children.”

To be accountability officers, parents and local communities should know what is being taught in their public schools and what student information foreign entities can access. The Chinese government should not be allowed to conduct what amounts to “informational warfare” on the United States by influencing and funding K-12 schools.