Rubio Introduces Bill to Protect American Education From Malign Chinese Influence

The newly proposed legislation aims to address some current legal loopholes the Chinese Communist Party exploits
Rubio Introduces Bill to Protect American Education From Malign Chinese Influence
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) addresses the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Terri Wu

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a bill on Thursday to protect American education from malign Chinese influence.

Like a bill passed in the House on Wednesday, Mr. Rubio’s legislation requires colleges to report any funding from foreign adversaries, including China. It lowers the reporting threshold from $250,000 to $50,000 for other foreign sources.

The bill also addresses Chinese influence in K-12 schools and those in the defense system.

“The integrity of our schools is one of the most basic guarantees that we should give to our students. Current federal policies to protect our students from adversaries are incomplete and disappointing. The U.S. is being infiltrated through its educational institutions,” Mr. Rubio said in a press statement. “This bill aims to close those gaps, securing a robust defense against malign foreign influence in our classrooms.”

To close some loopholes in current laws, Mr. Rubio introduced the definition of a “covered person” to include more front organizations of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The covered person may be China, the CCP, a Chinese entity on export control and other blocked lists, or a Chinese university or nonprofit engaging in any military-civil fusion projects or overseeing strategic projects for the CCP, including its global infrastructure program, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Cultural institutions bearing names other than “Confucius Institutes” are also covered by the proposed bill.

It defines a “Confucius Institute” (CI) as a cultural institution directly or indirectly funded by the CCP and a “Confucius Classroom,” the CI version in K-12 schools. The definition will cover Chinese language programs born out of CIs closed since 2021, following heightened governmental scrutiny of CIs as sources of undue Chinese influence.

As of June, 108 CIs have been closed in the United States, with ten remaining, according to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a conservative research and advocacy organization.
However, a 2022 NAS report said many universities replaced the CIs with similar programs, keeping the same partners. Authors of the report compared CIs to scaffolds that would serve no use to the CCP anymore after the building—the influence operations—had been constructed.

Mr. Rubio’s press release lists NAS as an endorser of the proposed bill. Parents Defending Education (PDE), a parent activist group, is another supporter.

In July, PDE released a report about “little red classrooms.” Through its parent network, the nonprofit discovered CCP-funded Chinese language teaching programs in at least 143 K-12 school districts in 34 states and the District of Columbia.

PDE Action, the organization’s advocacy branch, praised Mr. Rubio’s bill for “taking a comprehensive and strategic look at the problem set.”

In its 2023 annual report issued last month, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an independent agency of the U.S. government, recommended that Congress “address China’s state-sponsored influence and interference” in the American education system.

Mr. Rubio’s new bill also increases accountability by extending the foreign funding reporting threshold on individual faculty and staff in addition to the universities.