House committee clears bill on student privacy

A compromise bill to ensure the privacy of student data, which has become a rallying cry among Common Core opponents, won approval Wednesday in the House Education Committee.

A substitute version for House Bill 946, which sparked controversy last week, cleared the panel without objection.

It faces action now in the full House.

HB946 would require the state Department of Education by May 2015 to develop student identification numbers to transmit information rather than using Social Security numbers.

Information sent to the state from local school districts for assessments, auditing, funding and accountability could not identify the student.

State officials would be banned from sharing that data with private and public groups outside the state except for assessments.

Districts could only share personally identifiable information about students with the permission of the parents or legal guardian.

Data storage violators would be subject to penalties of up three years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

The bill sparked a three-hour hearing, and an impasse, on March 12.

But after behind-the-scenes negotiations, it won support from panel members, state Superintendent of Education John White, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office and several parents who said action is needed.

“The bill does some of the things that some of the parents are complaining about,” said state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, and sponsor of the legislation.

“It’s not everything I want,” Schroder said. “But the most important thing is protecting the data of children.”

The issue is linked to the volatile topic of Common Core, which includes the new reading, writing and math standards that take full effect for the 2014-15 school year.

Critics contend that tests linked to the new standards represent a student data grab that needs restrictions.

Higher education officials said last week that, under Schroder’s original bill, students would be unable to apply for TOPS and other scholarships.

The revamped proposal is supposed to relieve those fears.

Despite general support for the compromise not everyone was enthusiastic.

“I am totally against us collecting data,” said Jim Crumling, president of the Acadiana Patriots. “You’ve got to listen to the parents.”

White said after the vote that crafting a system of identification numbers for public school students is the key part of the bill for his agency.

“Rather than transmitting personally identifiable data you can transmit a unique, identifying number that is not a Social Security number and we will use that number going forward,” he said.

White said the bill will give his agency access to information that was jeopardized under Schroder’s original bill.

“The bill says that the state can continue its monitoring, its funding, its accountability, all of those functions. But rather than using a Social Security number use the unique identification,” he said.