OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — State Superintendent Ryan Walters testified at a U.S. House Committee meeting Tuesday morning about foreign government funding and how he wants to boot “hostile” foreign dollars from education.
Four panelists, including Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters, were asked to testify at a U.S. House Committee meeting on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.
The focus of the meeting was ‘Academic Freedom Under Attack: Loosening the CCP’s Grip on America’s Classrooms.’
“This is a pressing and deeply concerning issue that has ramifications far beyond the K-12 school system,” said Supt. Walters. “The Chinese government actively set up schools both in higher education and K-12, with the institution to spread communism and undermine the United States. Knowing this, any response and solution should be bipartisan and a noncontroversial issue. We must protect our kids and not allow a hostile foreign government to indoctrinate them.”
Supt. Walters said he was first notified of China’s governmental interference in Oklahoma education by parents.
He told U.S. House Committee members he has discovered a “disturbing connection” between TPS and the Chinese Communist Party.
“That school district maintains an active connection with the CCP through a program called the Confucius Classrooms,” stated Supt. Walters. “We will not allow these tools to be used in American classrooms. We are not communist China. In our classrooms, we will teach true history and we must take an immediate action against hostile countries who attempt to shroud the history and propaganda.”
During August’s State Board of Education meeting, the Board unanimously passed a requirement that school districts must report who and where they’re receiving funding from.
As Tulsa Public Schools has said before, a spokesperson told News 4 the allegations pushed by Supt. Walters are false.
“Today, Tulsa Public Schools’ Booker T. Washington High School earned recognition as one of 353 National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2023 – one of only 4 to receive this honor in the state of Oklahoma. This recognition denotes schools that “demonstrate effective and innovative teaching and learning” among other criteria. The designation as an ‘Exemplary High-Performing School’ within the National Blue Ribbon Schools program highlights Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School as among Oklahoma’s “highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.”
Students at Booker T. Washington have the benefit of learning world languages from exceptional educators, including those who choose to take Chinese language classes. Some of those students from the recently named National Blue Ribbon School earned awards in the prestigious state and national Chinese Speech Contests. These students work with a dedicated, highly respected educator who engages in supplemental professional development in Chinese language instruction, including past engagement with one of the organization’s mentioned in remarks by Oklahoma’s State Superintendent. This teacher’s salary and adopted instructional resources are fully paid for by Tulsa Public Schools. Contrary to accusations, the district takes no funds from the Chinese government and has no Confucius Classroom programs in its schools.“Tulsa Public Schools
Tulsa Public Schools’ Executive Director of Language and Cultural Services, Laura Grisso told KFOR the Chinese language class is currently offered at two high schools.
She added the class has been around for at least 12 years.
Oklahoma State University also offers a Chinese language class and has done so since 1983. The University of Oklahoma has offered one for 30 years.
Norman Public Schools confirms they offer a Chinese language class. Edmond and Putnam City Public Schools have confirmed they used to offer one.
“We don’t live in a bubble, right? We live in a global community and so we engage with others and want to understand others,” said Grisso.
Tulsa Public Schools currently offers seven world language courses, including Chinese.
“I think it’s important for our students to be able to have the opportunity to learn a variety of different languages because we live in such a global world. When you learn different languages and cultures, it not only supports the understanding and perspectives that you have of your own culture, but it helps you build an understanding and engagement with others,” said Grisso.
She added she has seen a lot of student interest and engagement over the years.
“We recognize we have a growing number of students. We have recognized students in Chinese as well as 16 other languages. What those students can do once they get to the careers in community to help engage and bring people together are just amazing opportunities. Any decrease or limitations in that would have a negative impact on our students’ opportunities in the future,” added Grisso.
International Leadership of Texas (ILTexas) is a free public charter school serving more than 23,000 K-12 students at 22 physical campuses in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Cleveland and College Station areas.
ILTexas Founder, Eddie Conger, told KFOR they offer English, Spanish and Chinese classes to students.
News 4 asked why Chinese is offered. Conger said the business market is competitive and to keep with the pace of that, the language is a necessity.
Conger called the language a national security opportunity.
Conger stated ILTexas tried working with Booker T. Washington in Tulsa. He said it ended up not working out.
“That district has been beaten up. I visited with [TPS] three weeks ago and when that teacher told me… ‘I’m getting verbal threats of physical violence and we’re not going to be able to do this.’ I agreed with her 100%,” said Conger. “I don’t want to put teachers’ lives in danger.”
He said he’s hoping the teaching of the Chinese language in Oklahoma isn’t abandoned because students will ultimately be failed.
Cogner said this topic goes beyond school. He said there needs to be more of a calling for Chinese ambassadors and liaisons.
News 4 reached out to Supt. Walters’ office Tuesday morning with a list of questions, but 3/4 were not answered.
“In testimony today, Superintendent Walters called on Congress to pass a law that would ban schools from accepting money from hostile foreign governments and would prohibit data, sharing agreements,” said OSDE Director of Communications, Dan Isett.