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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.