EdData Privacy Update 12/4/2015

EdData Privacy Update 12/4/2015

This week the House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). With the Senate expected to pass the bill next week and President Obama likely to sign it, we can anticipate a new national education law in the new year. As the Every Student Succeeds Act has wound its way through Congress, several student data privacy amendments were proposed and discussed. What does this final version of the bill say about privacy? Not a lot.

Among the most debated ESEA privacy proposals was the push from Chairman John Kline’s office to include a substantial amendment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Despite the Chairman’s interest in updating the 40-year-old student privacy law, it was ultimately deemed too complex to address in ESEA’s already complex conference process. Keeping FERPA out of ESEA has not only allowed the conference to be successful, but it gives Congress time to more carefully consider how a FERPA amendment can create an comprehensive and cohesive update to the legislation so that it can safeguard data while truly allowing for data use to benefit students.

While declining to include FERPA in ESEA was a wise decision, Congress also missed an opportunity to adopt a constructive and potentially very helpful student data privacy amendment. This amendment, originally introduced by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), would have created a Student Privacy Policy Committee to study and make recommendations on issues of student privacy and parental rights. Unfortunately, this is just the type of initiative that could have produced thoughtful and useful recommendations about how to amend FERPA.

One important privacy bright spot? An amendment from Representative Luke Messer (R-IN) to list the development and provision of educator trainings on data use and student privacy as allowable uses of professional development grant funds for states and districts. Explicitly listing data literacy and data privacy trainings as allowable uses of Title II grant funds will help ensure that those working directly with students will receive the supports and information they need to safeguard data as they use it effectively to support their students.

While student data privacy didn’t ultimately make a big appearance in ESEA, the federal government is certainly not done with this important topic. Expect to see a renewed focus on FERPA, more on federal bills to govern the use of data by online service providers, continuing discussions about funding for the US Department of Education’s student data privacy efforts, and more in the coming year. We’ll see you in 2016!