By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
There are only five legislative days left in the 2016 Alabama Legislative Session, and the leadership plans on burning three of those this week. Both of the constitutionally mandated budgets have passed, so all that is left is deciding what bills live, and what bills die, when legislators vote to sine die this session.
One of the most controversial pieces of legislation facing the Senate is HB125, sponsored by State Representative Terri Collins (R-Decatur), which would create a State longitudinal data system to track Alabama school students as they progress through schools, on to college, and into the work force.
Proponents argue that this is necessary for workforce developments. Opponents argue that this is government spying on kids.
Alabama Eagle Forum opposes the legislation. The conservative group wrote: “The Alabama State Longitudinal Database System Bill or House Bill 125 would create two new State agencies with no accountability and almost unlimited authority. These agencies’ sole purpose would be to collect information on private citizens. HB125 is currently on the move. Call your AL Representative and Senator tell them to oppose now!”
HB125 would create the Alabama Office of Education and Workforce Statistics. This bill will apply to all public school students and workers leaving public education. Eagle Forum writes, “It will collect private information on individuals, potentially through their entire lives. The purpose of this bill is to collect information on students, and monitor them indefinitely. As the bill states, ‘to create the Alabama Longitudinal Data System to provide for the matching of information about students from early learning through postsecondary education and into employment.’ (pg. 1) The stated goal of the legislation is to, ‘guide decision makers at all levels.’ (pg. 3) No clear basis or need for this mass amount of data collection on private citizens including students is provided. The bill contains only vague promises of confidentially with no actual method of protection or limitation on the data collection power of these new agencies. The bill claims to provide protections but provides none. The protection and the maintenance of confidentiality of collected educational data, including compliance with the Federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and all other relevant state and federal privacy laws, and all relevant state cyber security policies, (pg. 5).”
Eagle Forum wrote, “There are currently no State or Federal laws which apply to this bill in regard to protecting students’ personally identifiable information such as name, social security number, or family information. Even if all the information collected were dis-aggregate (meaning not on-its-own enough to identify an individual) it is still dangerous. Dis-aggregate information becomes personal information once you have just a few data points. Eagle Forum of Alabama opposes HB125, as it would create two extremely powerful agencies and violate the rights of Alabamians. If the government is going to seek any private information from citizens, they must provide a sound basis or get a warrant.”
The legislation was recommended by the Alabama Workforce Council and is supported by the powerful Business Council of Alabama (BCA).
Rep. Terri Collins spoke to BCA recently. Collins said the proposed system will be an excellent measuring tool for student progress in their educations and entering their fields of study. “The data will help us do research on what works. This will give us real information, productive information.”
The bill creates an Alabama Office of Education and Workforce Statistics within the Alabama Department of Labor in order to develop and implement the ALDS and will collect student records from early learning through postsecondary education through employment. The ALDS would be fully operational by May 30 and will enable the Alabama Department of Labor to seek more Federal Labor Workforce grants.
HB125 would order all of the state’s K-12, community college, and four-year university systems this year to define remediation and begin a process to utilize remediation. Public schools, including two- and four-year colleges, could share data and allow K-12 systems to determine if students in dual enrollment actually filled jobs in their fields of study.
A group of conservative State Senators have been blocking the measure by threatening to filibuster. Now that both budgets have been passed, that is less of a concern and Senator President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is expected to try to push through HB125 sometime this week.
Sen. Marsh told the Decatur Times Daily’s Mary Sells that the bill is a priority in the remaining days of the session and that the information collected on the children would be kept confidential. Marsh said, “If we’re going to determine where problems are in education … information is key to that.”
This controversial legislation has already passed the House.