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Data security bills fall through but could be resurrected

Fredrik Olofsson via Flickr

Two of three bills that would have taken steps to redefine how the state’s education data is managed, accessed and stored, died in the Indiana legislature this week.

One of them — House Bill 1320, which would have created a data repository for parents — was scuttled by fears its author said are unfounded that it could make student personal information more vulnerable to be shared beyond schools and children’s families.

The other — Senate Bill 277 — was specifically designed to protect student information. It died after the author recognized technical errors in the bill language that it was too late to fix.

A third bill — House Bill 1003, which would use education data as part of the state’s workforce development efforts — passed the House this week and will be taken up by the Senate later this month.

While the bills each had different goals, together they raised concerns about who would control Indiana’s education data and how it would be protected.

House Bill 1320 was intended to give parents more information about their children’s test performance, said its author, Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis. But Behning chose to let the bill die in the House on Monday due to concerns raised by other Republicans — concerns that he said were unfounded.

Behning said feedback he received from conservative House Republicans led him to believe enough of them might vote against the bill that it could be defeated when combined with no votes from the Democrats. So he did not ask for a vote on the bill Monday on the last day for bills to be sent to the Senate.

“There is so much misinformation,” Behning said. “It created a stigma. Sometimes you can’t overcome these things.”

In Indiana, worries about student data privacy have grown along with opposition to national Common Core academic standards. Indiana was an early adopter of the Common Core, now in place in 45 states, but now appears ready to dump it in favor of newly created standards later this year. A bill that passed the Senate today would void the Common Core in Indiana after July 1 on the presumption that new standards will be in place by then.

Common Core opponents have argued that the standards could compromise students’ privacy. While the Common Core itself does not require data sharing, several states adopted the standards at the same time they accepted federal Race to the Top education grants and also agreed to share data with the U.S. Department of Education.

Behning said some of his Republican colleagues, particularly those associated with the tea party, told him they were skeptical that the data repository the bill would create could be protected if the federal government or companies were to seek access. Behning insisted that House Bill 1320 did not actually create new data sets, it simply allows a new way for parents to access information the state already collects. But, he said, rather than risk the bill’s defeat he chose to drop it and seek to have the the idea of a repository for parents amended into another bill.

That’s also the plan for Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon with Senate Bill 277. One goal of Miller’s bill was to relieve the worry of Common Core critics and others that Indiana could be forced to share students’ personal information with the federal government or private companies.

But Miller said he discovered just before the bill was to be considered by the full Senate that an amendment had inadvertently altered language so that it could be interpreted as allowing access to student data instead of prohibiting it.

“I’ll try to work on the language and get it into a House bill,” he said.

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