Student data protection bills stall

by Walter Pierce

Lawmakers bogged down Wednesday over proposals that would limit how the state can store and share public school student data.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers bogged down Wednesday over proposals that would limit how the state can store and share public school student data.

The issue is a flashpoint in the larger dispute over the state's participation in tougher educational standards called the Common Core, particularly how online testing data will be used and shared with outside parties, including the federal government.

The House and Senate education committees debated bills that would add new privacy restrictions on student data in Louisiana. But both panels stalled the proposals to continue conversations about what limits to enact - and to determine what limits go too far.

Parents who oppose Common Core offered angry and sometimes tearful testimony about their concerns that the private details of their children's grades, medical conditions and Social Security numbers could be leaked for others to see. They said the state education department hasn't properly protected their children's personal information.

"The government takes our money and is taking our freedom. But you will not take our children. They are not your children," said Ralph Roshto, a Common Core opponent from St. Tammany Parish.

State Superintendent of Education John White and leaders of other state agencies said too many data restrictions could jeopardize billions of dollars in federal funding and students' abilities to get free college tuition through the state program called TOPS. Certain student data is used to determine eligibility for educational programs.

The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance told the House Education Committee that not having access to certain types of student data could mean "TOPS comes to a standstill."

"I think it's important for people to understand there are truly unintended consequences by eliminating some of this data to be collected," said Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

The House Education Committee planned to continue work next week on the bill by Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington.

Schroder said he's not trying to restrict education programs or the flow of education money to the state. "I'm here to protect the parents," he said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee was working on a proposal by its chairman, Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.

The two measures differ on how strictly to limit access to student data. Common Core critics favored Schroder's bill and said Appel's proposal gives too much freedom to the state education department. Gov. Bobby Jindal backed Schroder's bill.