Chinese program comes under scrutiny


Last updated 8/8/2023 at 9:48am

An international story detailing Chinese funding in American public schools raised eyebrows in the Sisters community last week.

The Daily Mail, a British daily tabloid, ran a story on July 30 reporting that “China is funding America’s public schools to the tune of $17 million dollars, it has been revealed, with Republicans now probing the disturbing donations.

“The report by Parents Defending Education states that the close coordination between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and U.S. schools to establish Confucius Classrooms has historically included 143 school districts in 34 states and Washington, D.C.”

A graphic prominently featured Sisters School District as one of the recipients of grant funds from Confucius Institute. The story raised concerns nationally and locally about propaganda and indoctrination being introduced through the programs funded by the institute.

Sisters School District (SSD) is no longer connected with the Confucius Institute, according to Superintendent Curt Scholl, but there was a long-standing program established in 2013 that funded teachers for SSD’s Mandarin Chinese language program.

Sisters schools were part of the Confucius Institute at Portland State University (CI-PSU) starting in 2013. The institute promoted cultural exchange and cooperation between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

In 2007, the China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (HanBan) and PSU’s Office of International Affairs jointly established the Confucius Institute at PSU as a cultural resource center and non-degree-granting entity. They worked with public and private schools throughout the state that offered Chinese as a part of their curriculum.

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“The Confucius Institute worked with PSU,” Scholl told The Nugget. “At least from our end, they were working to provide support for public schools to have Chinese language learning classes and to provide opportunities for cultural exchange.”

A group of students in the Sisters Mandarin Chinese language program traveled to China in the summer of 2018. The Nugget’s coverage of their trip may be found at:

The Mandarin language program in Sisters was sparked by David Perkins, a Black Butte Ranch resident who had been an executive for a shoe company that manufactured product in China. He and his wife, Paula, spent 25 years living in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

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Perkins, a certified teacher, supervised the program and its content and curriculum, and “was responsible for optimizing what we got” from the PSU/Confucius Institute program, Scholl said.

At the height of the program, there were three teachers and an associate working in all three Sisters schools. Elementary school students were exposed to calligraphy and cultural experience, along with some basic vocabulary. Sisters Middle School got more vocabulary development, and the high school program was a full-scale “language acquisition” program.

There were three to four teachers in Sisters funded through the PSU-Confucius Institute program at its height.

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“David managed them, found them housing, provided transportation up to Portland State University for training,” Scholl said. “I think it was cultural exposure for them (the teachers) as well.”

As relations between China and the U.S. became strained around 2018, Scholl said, “we didn’t see that flow anymore.” By 2019, the teacher program was no longer available through PSU, Scholl reported.

“That’s also the year that David retired,” Scholl noted.

The current Chinese language program is taught by Ada Chow, and her position is funded through the SSD budget, with additional funds from a $26,000 grant from Soochow University.

“They’re a partner with us,” Scholl said. “We see the relationship as a way to offset costs and provide a strong program.”

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The program operates primarily at Sisters High School.

“We’d love to have both Spanish and Chinese from 7th grade all the way through, but we just don’t have the FTE (full-time equivalent staffing) to do it,” Scholl said. “We don’t have the teaching corps to do it.”

He said the District would also like to reestablish the China trip for students.

Scholl said that until last week, the only concerns that he ever heard about the program were worries that SSD would no longer be able to offer it. Many students who went through the program have continued their studies to become fluent in the language.

“Most of the people who are involved in it are looking at it through a very capitalistic perspective,” Scholl noted. “How is this going to help my kid in the business world, open doors for them down the road?”

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The SSD is determined to continue offering the program, which is one of several programs that makes Sisters stand out among its peers in public education.

“It’s one of our unique programs, right?” Scholl said. “A small school district offering Chinese? You don’t see that. You don’t see Chinese in a lot of big schools, honestly.”

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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