Congress Considers Three Bills Aimed at National Student Data Collection

Published November 15, 2017

Three bills aimed at collecting data on American citizens, two of which focus specifically on collecting information about students, are pending in U.S. Congress. 

‘A National Database’

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced H.R. 4174, the “Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017,” or FEPA, in November 2017. The bill says its purpose is to amend United States code “to require Federal evaluation activities, improve Federal data management, and for other purposes.” FEPA’s aim is to create what the bills calls a “unified evidence-building plan.”

The bill amounts to, “in essence, a national database containing data from every federal agency on every citizen,” the American Principles Project (APP), a conservative think tank, stated on its website in November 2017.

Opposition from Parents

H.R. 4174 is the result of a September 2017 report by the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy-making (CEP) recommending bipartisan efforts to increase and improve data collection and usage.

In a letter to CEP dated November 2016, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy stated it opposed “any proposal that would lead to the creation of a central federal clearinghouse or linked data sets containing the personally identifiable information of all students, commonly referred to as a federal student unit-record system or national database.

“…K-12 student data currently collected by state departments of education in statewide longitudinal data systems that would potentially be shared with the federal database generally extend well beyond traditional administrative data to include upwards of 700 specific personal data elements, including students’ immigration status, disabilities, disciplinary incidents and homelessness status,” the letter further stated.

The Student Privacy Protection Act

The Student Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 3157), introduced in July 2015, would, as the bill says, “[allow] educational agencies or institutions to disclose education records without parental consent to education service providers, contractors, or other parties to whom institutional services have been outsourced…” and “[permit] disclosure of education records without parental consent to authorized representatives of the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Education, state or local educational authorities, or the Department of Justice…”

College Transparency Act

The College Transparency Act (CTA) (H.R. 2434), introduced in May 2017, “will provide actionable and customizable information for students and families as they consider higher education opportunities by accurately reporting on student outcomes such as enrollment, completion, and post-college success across colleges and majors, while ensuring the privacy of individual students is securely protected,” said a press release issued by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Mitchel (R-MI).

APP called the bill “dangerous” in a November 2017 press release. “This bill would remove the longstanding prohibition on a federal student unit-record system – which means it would allow the federal government to track all students who enroll in higher education, throughout their lives and careers, without their consent or even their knowledge,” APP said. “Even worse, it would allow data-matching among multiple federal agencies so that a dossier could be created on every student.”

Cites ‘Big Data’

Will Estrada, director of federal relations at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) says people’s concerns about CTA are legitimate.

“Basically, the CTA does one thing – it tries to collect data on college students, graduates, and those in the workforce…” Estrada said. “We believe it creates a national registry of every college student, and if you’re concerned about big data and the government collecting information on students, this is that bill.”

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma