Jan 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump seeks scrutiny of Chinese funding at U.S. schools

Statue of Confucius on the campus of George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.

Statue of Confucius on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Trump administration is trying to push through a last-minute policy to heighten scrutiny of Chinese government funding in American education, according to multiple administration officials familiar with the rule.

Why it matters: China's influence in U.S. classrooms — particularly through Confucius Institutes — has long concerned Republicans. The outgoing administration has been particularly outspoken, labeling them Chinese foreign missions last summer.

  • Just last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged universities to take seriously concerns of China's influence through funding and student programs and has called for Confucius Institutes to close.
  • The institutes teach Chinese language and culture classes on U.S. campuses. They have caused alarm because they are funded and staffed by the Chinese Ministry of Education, and in numerous cases they have censored curricula and events.

What to watch: The rule would require colleges and K-12 schools that are certified to have foreign exchange programs to disclose any contracts, partnerships or financial transactions from Confucius Institutes or Classrooms (the Confucius Institute offshoot for primary and secondary schools).

  • The rule would also apply to any other cultural institutes or student groups, such as Chinese Students and Scholars Associations, that are funded directly or indirectly by China, according to a Department of Homeland Security official.
  • If schools fail to report the information, Student and Exchange Visitor Program certification would be denied.

Between the lines: A report from the Senate’s Permanent Select Committee on Investigations found that nearly 70% of schools receiving more than $250,000 from organizations related to the Chinese government did not report the funding as legally required.

  • "This lack of reporting makes it impossible for the U.S. government to discern the level of potential influence of China on the U.S. educational system," according to a senior DHS official.

Be smart: It is not certain the rule will reach the Federal Register before Biden takes office a week from Wednesday, but officials are pushing to get it done in time, the sources said.

  • Once published in the register, the new rule would go into effect immediately as an interim final rule. The Biden administration would have the opportunity to easily undo it, should it decide to do so.
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