Indiana Data Collection Unites Political Parties, Angers Parents

Published May 15, 2014

Indiana is designing a database to store information about individuals’ schooling to improve vocational planning efforts.

“It sounds so sensible: We’ll talk to our friends, the big companies, find out from them what sort of training they would like their employees to have before they’re hired, revamp our education system to provide it, and enjoy the benefits of an improved business climate,” said Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. “But this corporatist model is incompatible with free enterprise and individual freedom.”

The Indiana Network of Knowledge, or INK for short, will ostensibly improve the state economy by rolling out job-training programs based on in-state college students’ majors and certifications. To do this, it will electronically link students’ files between the state Department of Education, Commission for Higher Education, and Department of Workforce Development.

Expanding Data Collection
Over the last ten years, states have expanded such longitudinal data systems.

According to a Workforce Data Quality Campaign report, this effort gained significant momentum after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 passed, providing $250 million in federal funding to states.

Although the Hoosier State is now one of 18 states that have created legislation adopting such plans, author of the House Enrolled Act 1003, state Rep. Steve Braun (R-Zionsville), says he crafted a plan that takes these workforce data plans to the next level.

“There’s nobody currently that is looking at the future job market effectively and using that to inform the education system,” said Braun. “That is obviously the greatest value in terms of closing the skills gap because it really aligns the education system with the job market.”

National Economic Planning
The data collection effort started last September when National Governors Association Chair Mary Fallin announced the bipartisan organization’s 2013-2014 initiative would be “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.”

“Governors are uniquely positioned to foster stronger connections between education and the workforce because within states, they are the sole individual who has responsibility for both public education and economic development,” Fallin has said in reference to the program.

In March, Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the Indiana bill into law.

In July, Pence appointed an executive director to a five-member agency that will oversee a long-term study, collecting elementary and high school state test stores, SAT and ACT results, college degrees, and salaries.

Some critics of the program fear it opens a Pandora’s Box to government control of private data.

“The government simply has no right to track my child throughout his life to see where he works, what he makes, etc. I don’t care if the tracking would yield valuable information for economic planning; I don’t care if the large corporate donors support it,” said Robbins, a mother of two adult children. “In a free society, my child’s career choices—as long as they’re legal—are not an appropriate object of government scrutiny.”

Security Concerns
Other critics express concern about whether the state will implement proper security measures to minimize any hacking or thefts.

“This requires a crystal-clear legislative purpose—data may be used for these purposes and no others. It requires a clear legislative mandate for strong privacy and security, including legal liability for failure to follow that mandate,” said Fred H. Cate, director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus.

Those security and privacy standards should have been established when the bill was written, he said, but they are currently missing.

Although the plan includes multiple security steps to repel hackers and will not contain a person’s Social Security number or criminal records, no system is 100 percent safe, and much personal information is still vulnerable, Robbins said.

“It’s irrelevant whether the student data is ‘anonymized,’ because in this era of Big Data and data-matching, there is no such thing as anonymization. Individuals will be identified, and the data will be hacked. It’s a question of when, not if,” Robbins said.

State officials appear to be willing to take that risk with other people’s money and information, she concludes.