Who Is In Charge

GOP data bill dies in committee

A sweeping student data protection bill proposed by Republican legislators was killed on a 3-2 party line Monday evening by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Key elements of the bill would have required parent permission for collection of many types of student information and created new data security requirements, including fines for officials responsible for data breaches. In its original form it would have applied not only to the Department of Education but also to local districts and to state colleges and universities. Get details on the bill’s provisions in this legislative staff summary.

Committee members were sympathetic to witness concerns about data privacy, but the bill’s lateness (it was introduced only on April 16), lack of Democratic support and its complexity likely doomed it from the start.

Data security and testing have emerged as touchy education issues this session, and majority Democrats have had to walk a fine line between showing sensitivity to the issues while killing bills that would be disruptive to the state’s accountability and data systems.

That may be the reason SB 14-204 ended up in judiciary rather than education, where two Democratic members are seeking election this fall from swing districts in Jefferson County, where concern about data privacy is high among some parent groups.

Sponsor Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, and witnesses who backed the bill said the absolute right of parent choice should trump state and district desires for data collection.

“The potential for misuse, abuse, breach and harm is immeasurable,” said Rachel Stickland, a Jefferson County parent who’s been active on the issue.

A long parade of parent witnesses warned about big corporations using student data to amass profits and about the danger of sensitive information on mental conditions and school discipline following students into their adult lives.

But education professionals who testified warned that the bill was an overreach and could bar the gathering of necessary information about student special education needs, mental health, possible threats to school safety and about college and career planning.

“We’re worried that the brush is a little bit too broad,” said Brandon Eyre, a lawyer for the Aurora Public Schools.

As the three-and-a-half hour hearing concluded, the committee’s three Democrats went out of their way to compliment Marble and express concern over the issue.

“These are issues we have to address,” said Denver Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston, the legislator most associated with education reform ideas, including the benefits of data. But, he said, “There are too many things [in the bill] that have unintended consequences.”

Committee chair Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, found herself on the horns of a different dilemma. Noting that the American Civil Liberties Union supported the bill, she said, “I’ve never been on the opposite side of the ACLU.”

But she, Johnston and Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, combined to kill the bill on the 3-2 vote.

The only data bill still in play this session is House Bill 14-1294, which would impose several data security requirements only on CDE, mostly things the department says it’s already doing. That bill is awaiting Senate floor consideration.

Things were quieter in House Ed

The House Education Committee worked its way through three bills Monday, passing each of them on 7-5 party line votes. Those measures are:

  • Senate Bill 14-167, which would require school boards to keep lists of issues discussed and the amounts of time taken during executive sessions.
  • Senate Bill 14-167, a measure that proposes to create pilot programs to explore methods for improving student achievement at alternative education campuses.
  • Senate Bill 14-124, which proposes creation of a program in CDE to develop specially trained school turnaround leaders.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to texts of bills mentioned in this story and information about all 2014 education measures.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.