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Military spending law unexpectedly affecting Mandarin immersion programs

January 12, 2019

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A military spending bill signed by President Donald Trump in August limits funding from the U.S. Department of Defense for Chinese language programs at schools that also host Confucius Institutes, which are Chinese government-funded nonprofits that promote Chinese language and culture.

The provision of the National Defense Authorization Act requires schools to separate  Confucius Classroom teachers, who are funded by China’s Confucius Institute, from Department of Defense critical language grant-funded programs (at least I think it does, it’s a little unclear.)

Although the actual language in the bill only refers to higher education, it appears it is also being applied to Mandarin immersion K – 12 programs that have funding through the Department of Defense, probably through the various critical language programs.

Most news reports have only been about university programs, so the move took some schools by surprise.

Schools were notified last week that the separation must be complete and certified by Tuesday, January 15th. That’s causing many Mandarin immersion programs to have to remove Confucius Classroom teachers.

Here’s a good story from Inside Higher Ed explaining what’s happening.

The Bill

Here’s how a columnist for the Washington Post explained it on August 12, 2018 column:

Tucked inside the $716 billion John McCain 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that President Trump signed Monday is a provision barring any U.S. university from using Pentagon resources for any program involving Confucius Institutes, Chinese government-funded language schools embedded inside U.S. colleges. In the future, any universities that have Pentagon-funded and Chinese government-funded Chinese language programs will have to secure a Pentagon waiver if they want to keep both.


Here’s the actual bill. The section that is about the Confucius Institute is 1065.

The language in the bill


(a) PROHIBITION—None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2019 under this Act may be obligated or expended for Chinese language instruction provided by a Confucius Institute.

(b) LIMITATION—None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2019 under this Act may be obligated or expended to support a Chinese language program at an institution of higher education that hosts a Confucius Institute.

(c) WAIVER—The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness may waive the limitation in subsection (b) with respect to a Chinese language program at a specific institution of higher education if the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness—

(1) certifies to the congressional defense committees that—

(A) Confucius Institute employees and instructors will have no affiliation with the pro- gram;

(B) Confucius Institute employees and instructors will provide no instruction or support to the program;

(C) Confucius Institute employees and instructors will have no authority or influence with regard to the curriculum and activities of the program; and

(D) the institution has made publicly avail- able all memoranda of understanding, con- tracts, and other agreements between the institution and the Confucius Institute, or between the institution and any agency of or organization affiliated with the government of the People’s Republic of China; or

(2) certifies to the congressional defense committees that—

(A) the requirements described in subparagraphs (A) through (C) of paragraph (1) have been met; and

(B) the waiver of the limitation in subsection (b) is necessary for national security, and there is no reasonable alternative to issuing the waiver.


(1) CHINESE LANGUAGE PROGRAM—The term ‘Chinese language program’’ means any Department of Defense program designed to provide or support Chinese language instruction, including the National Security Education Program, the Language Flagship program, Project Global Officer, and the Language Training Centers program.

(2) CONFUCIUS INSTITUTE—The term ‘‘Confucius Institute’’ means a Confucius Institute that is operated by the Office of Chinese Languages Council International, also known as Hanban, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China.

(3) INSTITUTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION—The term ‘‘institution of higher education’’ has the meaning given the term in section 101 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001 et seq.).

Letter to Portland Mandarin immersion families about the change

Here’s a letter that went out on January 10, 2019 to families at Woodstock Elementary school in Portland, Oregon. Woodstock is the second-oldest public Mandarin immersion program in the nation.


Dear PPS Chinese Dual Language Immersion Families,

As many of you may know, PPS has been fortunate to receive significant grant funding from both the US government and the Chinese government for over twelve years to support opportunities for K-12 students to learn Chinese language and culture. These significant financial supports enabled PPS to expand opportunities from several hundred students to thousands of students in diverse settings. Our intent is to continue to use these resources to support and expand these opportunities.

However, due to federal funding legislation passed by the US Senate this past year, we are required to separate these funding sources and programs. What this means at the school level is that our Confucius Classroom (CC) teachers will not be able to work in our Chinese DLI classrooms. We were notified this week that this separation must be complete and certified by Tuesday, January 15th. Unfortunately, the way the law is written, we have no choice in this matter if we are to retain these two grants.

Those CC teachers currently working in Chinese DLI program classrooms will be shifted to other classrooms or schools to establish this separation. We are working with our principals on how to make this happen given the short timeline.  Principals will share those details with students and families.

We will miss having these wonderful adults as part of our DLI programs.   However, moving PPS into compliance with this new law allows PPS and the Portland community to maintain both resources for supporting the teaching and learning of Chinese language and culture. All DLI programs and courses will continue, and every effort will be made to make this transition as smooth as possible.

Thanks for your patience and understanding as we work to do our best to serve students while complying with this new legislation.


Michael Bacon

Director of Department of Dual Language

Portland Public Schools


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