Student data privacy legislation held up

In the first debate that touched on the volatile issue of Common Core, a bid to tighten rules on the privacy of information about public school students hit a snag Wednesday.

The Louisiana House Education Committee spent three hours discussing a plan that would limit information that local school districts could send to the state Department of Education and others. Social Security numbers, date and place of birth, and mother’s maiden name would be off-limits.

The proposal, House Bill 946, also would impose curbs on student data storage, and require that newly created student identification numbers take the place of Social Security numbers.

“There is an urgent need to protect student privacy,” said state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington and sponsor of the measure.

However, the panel delayed discussions, possibly until March 26, because of a dispute over what information should be available to the state education agency.

Officials also warned that, under the current language, the measure would play havoc with TOPS and other college scholarships.

The panel initially recessed for more than 90 minutes before Schroder conceded that he needed more time.

“We are not where we need to be,” Schroder told the committee.

Earlier, state Superintendent of Education John White told the committee that his department needs certain information about students to establish eligibility for state and federal funds, required assessments and the transmission of student records.

White said after the meeting that he supports the aims of the bill and is confident that technical issues can be worked out.

Schroder said additions sought by White’s department would undermine the goal of the legislation.

“I don’t want to protect the government,” Schroder said. “I am here to protect the parents.”

White told reporters that the state needs information, even if it is not identifiable, for issues such as whether students are entitled to special education services or how they have progressed on state accountability measures.

“That’s just where we are hung up right now,” he said.

The hearing marked the first time this session that lawmakers debated a topic related to Common Core, which are new standards in reading, writing and math that take effect for the 2014-15 school year.

Critics of the standards contend that Schroder’s bill is needed in part because Common Core tests could compromise student privacy. The issue also has become a rallying cry for Common Core opponents, who hope to derail the standards through separate bills.

Schroder’s and two other privacy bills were supposed to be heard in the House panel on Wednesday. Action on all three were delayed.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, also delayed action on his own proposal on student data after a few hours of discussion in his committee.

Earlier, a parade of parents and other witnesses urged the House committee to approve Schroder’s bill.

Amy Lemoine, who lives in Lafayette, told the panel that the measure does the best job of revamping how student data is collected and accessed.

“Louisiana must pass legislation that will protect our children,” said Lemoine, a member of Louisiana Parents Against Common Core.

Others warned that Schroder’s proposal could have huge, unintended consequences.

Shanna Estay, executive staff officer of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, said the bill would cripple the ability of higher education officials to get information needed for a wide range of scholarships, including TOPS.

“It could affect anywhere from 60,000 to 70,00 students,” Estay said.