In our recently released policy brief, DQC has charged the field to set its sights on the next critical step for state data systems: improved access to data. State data systems contain information that can be a critical resource to inform and ease individuals’ pathways into and out of the workforce, but to do so, leaders must update data systems so that people can access data in the format they need to inform their decisionmaking.
The federal government can and should be a partner in this work. By using the various levers at its disposal—including funding, legislation, and technical assistance—the federal government can galvanize action and accelerate and expand the scope of what states can accomplish. While there are many ways the federal government can support this work, here are three things DQC will be looking for in particular in the coming year.
1. Align investments to state needs. The Biden Administration has prioritized implementing strategies that put individuals on pathways to success as they navigate the early childhood to workforce (P–20W) pipeline. Decisions about how best to implement and scale this policy agenda require the support of statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs). Current SLDSs cannot meet that need, and updating state data systems so they can integrate individual-level data in a manner that supports this vision will require investing more and differently in the coming years. We will be looking for:
- Increased investment in existing programs that provide support for source systems (e.g., Statewide Longitudinal Data System and Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grant Programs). Many of the systems that are designed for specific sectors are outdated and need updating to integrate data from other sectors. Agencies should ensure that when they are holding competitions for these grants, they are setting priorities that orient states toward cross-agency data integration and access.
- New investments that are not focused on a specific sector and that provide states with the flexibility to build or update their SLDS and collaborate across agencies to address their policy priorities. The Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building’s recommendation for a new block grant for state data systems offers one possible approach.
- Guidance that clarifies the many other funding streams that states can use to support data systems. In particular, the massive (and time-limited) federal emergency relief funds can be used as a down payment on evolving state data systems.
2. Help states navigate the complex privacy landscape. Centering privacy is critical for data access. For states to expand data access, people have to trust that state and local leaders are implementing all applicable policies and practices to keep data safe. However, this is no easy task as the patchwork of privacy requirements is difficult to navigate and becomes both a real and perceived barrier to data use. We will be looking for:
- Legislative and regulatory strategies that align data privacy and security requirements with current practice and technology, that are clear and simple to implement, that don’t compromise safety, and that don’t add to the existing patchwork of polices.
- Efforts to revise and draft privacy laws that balance protecting privacy with the ability to access and use data in ways that enable educators, service providers, families and individuals to make better decisions about their education and workforce pathways.
- Enhanced technical assistance to states and communities to help them navigate the various and sometimes conflicting privacy requirements that must be considered when integrating data across sectors. Existing resources, such as the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), provide state and local leaders with important and valued support, but need more capacity to address the full scope of privacy questions needs.
3. Build trust in data. Improved data transparency and access creates an opportunity to demonstrate the value of federal investments in communities and the positive impact of those investments on people’s lives. However, expanded data access and use is only possible if people feel confident that the data is protected and used ethically. We will be looking for:
- Administrative efforts to push states to make data tools easy to find, and to contextualize the data they report publicly so that people can understand it. For example, requiring states to think about how data is displayed, described, and translated.
- Administrative and Congressional efforts to support states in reimagining their data systems with an orientation toward access so they provide value to individuals trying to make decisions about navigating their education and workforce journeys.
- Congressional efforts to ensure that improved collaboration at the federal level results in better coordination with and services to states. A newly introduced resolution to create a congressional commission on evidence-based policymaking could play a role in helping Congress think about how federal and state data systems can work together to improve outcomes for individuals and communities.
Next year is shaping up to be busy for both Congress and the Biden Administration, both of which have signaled their intent to pursue a variety of policies that could impact communities and individuals. Ensuring that those policies also advance state data systems is not just a nice to have; rather, it is necessary to understand whether federal policies are having a positive impact in communities. Whether an individual trying to make choices about a career, a community group trying to understand and address inequities in opportunity, or a local leader assessing the effectiveness of past investments, everyone from individuals to policymakers needs better access to information. The federal government has a key role to play in making better access possible.