Advocacy Update: Lawmakers Turn to Legislation on Student Privacy and Data Collection
By Kelly D. Pollitt
May 2015, Volume 38, Issue 9
As movement on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (see NAESP update) remains on track for consideration by the full Senate in June, and House lawmakers continue to work on a strategy to pass its version of the renewed law, leaders in Congress have turned their attention to student data privacy legislation. Issues related to student privacy have surfaced over the past several months particularly as the use of technology in education has increased related to instruction and assessment.
A Look at Student Privacy Bills in Congress
Three student-focused privacy bills are now pending, and others are in the pipeline. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) recently introduced far-reaching legislation (S.1341) to amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The bill addresses parents’ concern that they, “feel betrayed when schools collect and release information about their kids.”
Vitter’s bill follows the recent introduction of bipartisan privacy legislation proposed by Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) that would expand the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) authority to regulate how for-profit and non-profit entities that work with schools use students’ personally identifiable information. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) have also introduced legislation to update FERPA. The Hatch-Markey bill (S. 1322) mirrors legislation introduced by the pair in 2014 and, relative to the Vitter and Messer-Polis proposals, takes a much more targeted approach to updating FERPA with a focus on security, advertising, and other public concerns.
Two additional student privacy bills are on the horizon, including legislation put forward by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), who circulated a draft bill in April that proposes to substantially update FERPA, including updating the law’s sharing exceptions, creating new data security requirements, and expanding the law’s definition of education records. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is also reportedly considering introduction of a privacy bill similar to the Messer-Polis legislation focused on expanding the FTC’s authority in this area. Blumenthal sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the agency’s work.
NAESP Advocacy Priorities on Student Privacy Legislation
NAESP continues to work with leaders on Capitol Hill to address the issues surrounding student privacy legislation. Priority areas being addressed include:
- Replacing fines on public institutions for their unwitting violations of privacy law;
- Ensuring the bill does not curtail educational research by permitting parents to opt-out from studies that provide effective protections for individuals;
- Supporting capacity-building at the state, district, and school levels to provide educators with training on their role protecting privacy and security of student data, including for principals;
- Supporting collection of early learning data to inform K-12 data collection that is currently underway in states and longitudinal data systems;
- Clarifying how students can access their child’s records and how schools or districts can reasonably notify parents of new vendor contracts; and
- Simplifying how schools and local educational agencies are charged with implementing FERPA’s requirements.
As lawmakers consider the various bills, NAESP will continue to represent the interests of principals and schools to ensure there are no unnecessary burdens placed on the shoulders of school leaders. For more information on federal student privacy legislation, please contact Kelly D. Pollitt, Associate Executive Director of Policy and Special Projects at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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