Walters told Congress TPS had ‘active connection’ with China. His staff was told the opposite.

Emails show OSDE already had been told the relationship had ended

By: - September 29, 2023 2:24 pm

State Superintendent Ryan Walters testified to Congress that Tulsa Public Schools had an "active connection" with the Chinese Communist Party, despite his staff being told days before that the program at issue was no longer affiliated with the school district. (Photo by Brent Fuchs/For Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — By the time State Superintendent Ryan Walters testified to Congress that Tulsa Public Schools “maintains an active connection” with the Chinese Communist Party, his staff already had been notified that the district’s relationship with a Chinese language program had been severed weeks earlier.

Emails Tulsa Public Schools provided to Oklahoma Voice show its staff told the Oklahoma State Department of Education that the district canceled its contract with the Confucius Classroom Coordination Office at International Leadership of Texas, a charter school network that hosted training for foreign language teachers. 

The contract was canceled on Aug. 25, records show. The school district informed the state Education Department of that fact on Sept. 15, as first reported by StateImpact Oklahoma

Walters testified in the congressional hearing on Sept. 19.

Walters alleges Chinese communist influence in schools during D.C. hearing

Walters told reporters on Thursday he was unaware before he testified in Washington, D.C., that the contract already had been voided.

He blamed the school district for not informing him in time.

“We did not get information from them in the time that we requested,” Walters said. “We continued to ask for all information available, and we continued to see roadblocks from the district.”

However, a Sept. 15 email from the school district to the state Education Department’s accreditation office mentions, “As of August, 25, 2023, Tulsa Public Schools is no longer partnering with the CCCO at International Leadership Texas Global.”

The state Education Department did not respond to questions about the discrepancy. Instead a spokesperson, Dan Isett, said, “We are glad to get the communist Chinese government’s influence out of Tulsa Public Schools.”

The Tulsa district said it used its own funds to send a Chinese language teacher from Booker T. Washington High School to attend a training at the Texas school. 

The district said all costs that related to the Confucius Classroom Coordination Office amounted to $6,240 over the 2022-23 school year. That included the price of the teacher’s training and travel, classroom supplies, cultural supplies and food for students, according to the email from the district to the state.

The contract between Tulsa and International Leadership of Texas permitted the district to found a Confucius Classroom at Booker T. Washington to teach Chinese language and culture, train local Chinese language teachers, and organize exchange programs between the U.S. and China, according to a copy of the document that the state Education Department provided.

The district had the opportunity to receive funds for operational expenses from the Chinese nonprofit that oversees the Confucius Classroom program.

Both the school district and International Leadership of Texas have said Tulsa exclusively spent its own money and received no funds from the Chinese program.

The superintendent and founder of the Texas charter school, Eddie Conger, drove to Oklahoma City to reiterate that to Walters and the Oklahoma State Board of Education during the board’s meeting Thursday.

“I just want you to know that I’ve not sent any money to Tulsa Public Schools, not one dime,” Conger said while speaking in public comment at the meeting. “I would have, but they said no.”

The Chinese International Education Foundation manages the Confucius Institutes, not the government of China. Regardless, Walters has often equated the nonprofit with the Chinese Communist Party and accused Confucius Classrooms of being part of a propaganda campaign by the party.

He and the state Board of Education voted in August to require all Oklahoma school districts to report any foreign funding. Walters urged Congress and the state Legislature to prohibit schools from receiving funds from hostile foreign governments.

“We must protect our kids and not allow a hostile foreign government to indoctrinate them,” he said in his congressional testimony.

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Nuria Martinez-Keel
Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel covers education for Oklahoma Voice. She worked in newspapers for six years, more than four of which she spent at The Oklahoman covering education and courts. Nuria is an Oklahoma State University graduate.