FPF Asks Lawmakers: “Send a Message to States that Privacy is a Priority”

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FPF supported Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) recent initiative to bring an important issue about student privacy to the attention of lawmakers.  Signing on with DQC and 20 other educational and privacy groups, FPF agrees that it is critical that states have the resources they need to ensure adequate privacy protection for student data.  Since states already receive some federal funding to support their State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS), one way for them to fund a central responsibility for privacy concerns is to be allowed to use those funds.

As Rachel Andersen at DQC summarizes:

  • The letter asks Congress to make hiring a data privacy professional an allowable use for states with their federal State Longitudinal Data Systems program funds, using an existing set aside within the program, which Congress established several years ago through the appropriations process and has continued on an annual basis. This existing set aside permit funding for staff focused on “data coordination, quality, and use.” This letter asks Congress to add “privacy protection” to these enumerated activities.
  • The proposed change would simply allow states the option of using the program’s current “data coordination, quality, and use” set aside for privacy protection activities as well. This new allowable use would be completely optional for states and would grant them more freedom to fund a privacy professional position if they choose.
  • The opportunity to use these funds for privacy would be available for all states and there is absolutely no requirement that states do anything or give up anything they’re already funding. Even if states were to take advantage of the new allowable use, they might elect to use only a small share of the funding for a privacy person.
  • In short, we are requesting more flexibility for states who want to use SLDS funds they are already receiving for privacy capacity, there are no obligations for anyone.

Why Does this Issue Matter?

  • As states and the federal government continue to propose laws (including possible amendments to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA)) to help safeguard student’s data, states also need the internal capacity to properly understand, develop, and implement strong privacy policies and practices. The funding use flexibility proposed in this letter could help states implement and support good privacy protections for their students and their families.
  • Many states do not have an individual who has been tasked with leading the state’s education data privacy activities. But the level of discussion and legislation in states (over 400 student data privacy bills have been considered in states since 2014!) shows us how much states want to build capacity and expertise to ensure they are safeguarding students’ privacy. This request is one way to help them do this.

Why This Particular Ask?

  • States often look to the “allowable uses” when they are considering how to use program funds. Adding privacy as an allowable use in this SLDS set aside would be an important signal to states that privacy coordination activities/personnel are a priority and that these SLDS funds can help.
  • Currently many states use this set aside for EdFacts or NAEP coordinators to help handle their state’s data management and quality. Expanding the data set aside to allow states to hire privacy coordinators as well is a natural extension of the existing option.
  • There are certainly other ways we all can and should continue this conversation about how to build privacy capacity and resources in states. The request in this letter is just one more way to help get states the capacity they need.

FPF is pleased to join in this “ask” to federal policymakers to send a clear message to states that privacy is a priority in the collection and use of student data – and to provide an avenue to the resources to support it.