By Deborah Love, Executive Director, Eagle Forum of Alabama and Shanna Chamblee, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs, Alabama Gun Rights Inc.
The events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have left students, parents and an entire nation in agony. Since the Columbine massacre, our nation has been horribly awakened to a new normal – a world in which these massacres are not all that irregular. Each time one occurs, people are motivated to offer idyllic solutions so that such an incident may not happen again.
The truth of the matter is…more
By Brandon Moseley
The legislature has returned for another session and some GOP legislators are once again pushing a longitudinal data collection scheme. Once again the primary opponents of this grand scheme are fellow Republicans. On Thursday, February 23 Alabama Eagle Forum led a conservative rally in opposition to the longitudinal data bills, House Bill 97 and Senate Bill 153.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) read a statement from his wife, state school board member Jackie Zeigler (R) vowing to oppose the data collection.
A statement was read from Representative Barry Moore (R from Enterprise). Moore said that only communist countries think they can direct children into career paths from early childhood. Moore questioned education rankings where countries that have invented nothing and innovated nothing are ranked higher than the U.S.
Rep. Arnold Mooney (R from Indian Springs) said that liberty loving people must be most on guard when the government acts with good intentions.
Rep. Ed Henry (R from Hartselle) said, “Does government need all of this information to better serve the public?”
Henry said that when he was campaigning, “Nobody ever said I wished the government would collect more data on me.” Henry said, “There really are not evil people down here we are just differing on which side we need to be on this.” Henry warned that we will end up losing our nation as we know it.” This would put us on a dangerous path and I don’t have any desire to be part of it.”
Senator Rusty Glover (R from Mobile) said, “We didn’t come to Montgomery to grow the size of government and this is growing the size of government. Sen. Glover said, “I have received dozens and dozens of phone calls from constituents asking,” for this to be stopped. I have not had the first parent or student asking that this be done.”
Glover has recently announced his 2018 candidacy for Lieutenant Governor. Current Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey is term limited from running again.
State School Board member Stephanie Bell (R) warned of a potential for government tyranny with this. At this point the best place for HB97 and SB153 is the trash can. Bell said that the federal government has demonstrated in the last year how vulnerable their data bases are to hacking. They can not secure the data. “This is about growing bureaucracy.” This will become one of the biggest budget items in state government in future.
Joe Godfrey ALCAP quoted GK Chesterton: “It is only in believing in God that we can ever criticize government, because without God they will worship government as God.” Godfrey warned of the dangers of giving the state of Alabama that much power. We need to encourage our legislators to stand strong in opposition to this.
Rep. Allen Farley (R from McCalla) said, “I am a Christian conservative member of the Republican Party in that order.” Farley said, “The poor schools are in the poor communities. Most of the prison population comes from the poor communities.” “As a Republican we believe in smaller government but a big and great God. Farley warned about the danger of data collection.
State School Board member Betty Peters (R) said, “I have no faith that no harm will be done.” “We have new things coming at our children every day that invade our children’s privacy.” “We must assure that no harm is done,” to the children of the state. This database is being run by a board with very few elected people on it. At the state Board of Education we asked questions. Then Governor ordered the board set up through an executive order with all of these appointed people, many of them appointed by him. I do not like appointed boards where everybody is appointed. I am elected if you don’t like what I am doing you can vote me out. Appointed people only answer to the person who appointed them.
Eagle Forum of Alabama Executive Director Deborah Love, who emceed the event, thanked all the legislators who attended and said, “We can count on their vote as a no vote and a yes vote for liberty.”
Rep. Mike Holmes (R from Wetumpka) said that the HIPAA data was also supposed to be secure. The dirty little secret is those HIPAA laws are not being enforced. There are 1300 complaints against the people running the database and the same people who maintain that data base are the people who is running this data base. Data mining of the database has become big business. if they can do that with the medical database they can do that with this.
What with manipulation of currency and theft of jobs, China is held in fairly low repute, especially down South. But some Alabama legislators seem enamored of at least one part of the Chinese system – the one that compiles enormous amounts of data on citizens, beginning when they’re toddlers and continuing through their careers, and swaps this data back and forth among various government agencies for government purposes. One might expect this kind of dangerous nonsense from, say, California, but . . . Alabama?
Parents and citizens are alarmed at two companion bills (SB 153 and HB 97) currently moving through the legislature to create a massive centralized warehouse of education and workforce data. This system would be called ANSWERS, or the Alabama Network of Statewide Workforce and Education-Related Statistics, which would be administered by a new Department of Labor bureaucracy called the Office of Education and Workforce Statistics (the “Office”).
The reach of ANSWERS would be sweeping. Operated by the Office, the system would combine education data (beginning in pre-K) and workforce data to provide information on the effectiveness of educational and workforce-training programs, and to assess “the availability of a skilled workforce to address current and future demands of business and industry.” (The bills don’t explain how the government can predict the “future demands of business and industry”; the Soviet Union tried it, but without much success.) The data could then be analyzed for whatever purposes the bureaucrats come up with, and used for “research” which, if history is any guide, will be ignored if it doesn’t support what the bureaucrats want to do.
How would this work? An Advisory Board would be established to identify the types of data that certain listed governmental entities would have to dump into the centralized warehouse. The statutory (and non-exclusive) list of such data sources includes all education agencies in the state, from pre-school through four-year universities – plus the Departments of Labor, Commerce, and Veterans’ Affairs. So these billions of data points on practically all Alabama citizens would be centralized into one repository to be sifted and shifted by central planners.
But surely the Advisory Board will be constructed so as to protect the interests of children and their parents. Not exactly. Of the 24 members, 22 must be either politicians, bureaucrats, or representatives of specific entities such as higher-education systems. One must represent private industry and know something about data-security (the bills’ only nod to security concerns), and the last shall be a lonely “representative of the public” (not necessarily a parent). The fix, ladies and gentlemen, is in.
The privacy concerns with ANSWERS are staggering. For one thing, although certain proponents have suggested the data would all be de-identified, the bills clearly contemplate the presence of personally identifiable data (by requiring “security clearance . . . for individuals with access to personally identifiable data”). Indeed, the bills specify that the Office would be considered an “authorized representative” under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the only point of such a designation is to be entitled to receive students’ personally identifiable without parental consent or even notification.
Even if all data were to be de-identified, data can be frequently re-identified – especially when there are hundreds of data points on each individual to enable data-matching. And the bills even specify that the Office is to “link educational, workforce, and workforce training data from multiple sources through quality matching.” In such a vast repository, anonymization will be difficult if not impossible.
No more comforting is the bills’ requirement that the system comply with FERPA and other unspecified privacy laws. Five years ago the Obama administration gutted FERPA by regulation, thus enabling almost unlimited disclosure of personally identifiable student data as long as certain terms are used to justify the disclosure. Do the bills’ sponsors not know this? If not, what are they doing writing legislation that relies on FERPA “protections”?
The bills require no particular system of data-security, leaving that up to the Office. But the Office will have an unenviable task, given that this wealth of extremely sensitive information (including student education data, Social Security numbers from the Labor Department, family income information from student-loan programs, and on and on) will be conveniently assembled into one neat package and therefore made enormously attractive to hackers. One might as well assemble all the crown jewels of Europe into one room and hope jewel thieves don’t notice.
If enacted, ANSWERS would be among the most intrusive longitudinal data systems in the country – only 16 states and D.C. have such an Orwellian system. But most Alabama parents understand that the government has no right to collect highly personal data on their children, or on adults for that matter, and give it to other agencies to track their journey through the workforce and through life. It is none of the government’s business. One would have expected Alabama officials to understand this as well.
An equally fundamental, and troubling, aspect of this contemplated data repository is its adoption of the statist “socialization,” workforce-development philosophy of education. Traditional education in America has been designed to develop each individual to the full extent of his talents, to expose him to the best of human thought; statist education is designed to train him to be a cog in the economic machine. Only if the State adopts the latter philosophy does it need a data repository to track citizens and see how the training is working out.
Fortunately, Alabama State Superintendent Michael Sentance has a strong history in a true educational system rather than a workforce-training system. His experience as Secretary of Education in Massachusetts back when that state educated children better than any other state in the nation should prepare him to recognize the dangers of the ANSWERS network.
In public statements so far, Sentance has focused on the critical problems with data security. The parents of Alabama students are counting on him to go further – to reel in the dangerous inclination of the all-powerful State to collect data on free-born citizens and use it to analyze them as though rats in a laboratory. If Sentance comes out against ANSWERS, that ill-advised scheme will probably go down. Alabama is not China. Supt. Sentance can ensure that it doesn’t become so.
Eunie Smith is President of Eagle Forum of Alabama
By Deborah Love, executive director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, she also was appointed to and served on the Alabama ESSA Implementation Committee on Data Collection and Early Learning sub-committees
Justice Brandeis wrote, “the right to privacy is the right to be left alone.” Privacy is an essential aspect of a free society. Yet Representative Terri Collins is once again pushing a state longitudinal database bill in the Alabama legislature. A state longitudinal database is a centrally controlled database which collects and stores personally identifiable information on students. This centrally controlled database will track students throughout their lives and continuously consolidate personal data between multiple state agencies. While the bill has been renamed “Answers” this year it provides few. Instead it will give broad powers to what will be a newly created agency and advisory board with no accountability.
Though the Alabama Department of Labor has promised the bill does not allow the collection of private and personal student information, the bill itself contradicts that claim. Its collection and retention is clearly anticipated in the bill. The bill describes “security clearance requirements for individuals with access to personally identifiable information.” The bill goes further to describe who has direct access to this information. “Direct access to personally identifying information in the system shall be restricted to staff and authorized representatives of the office.”
Personally identifiable information could be a home address of a student or where they work. This means a government employee not involved with a child’s education on a local level will have access to a student’s geographic location on a daily basis. Data in the system will only go through a deidentification process if released to the public or researchers. This does not restrict the collection and retention of personally identifiable information within the system or among state agencies.
Information is personally identifiable because anyone can use this information and then identify the student by name. Personally identifiable information can be anything that identifies you as you. Aggregate data points combined can also become personally identifiable when combined in one central lo-cation. HB97 and its companion bill SB153 will combine information from ten state agencies in a central location and can potentially combine information from “any additional public agency or entity”.
The bill does not provide new state protection for student privacy; instead, the bill only punishes an actor merely for improperly sharing student data without the permission of the agency. The agency though will be collecting personally identifiable information on individual students. Government tracking of individual citizens including students is a violation of fundamental privacy rights. Senator Del Marsh and the Department of Labor claim that the information will be kept confidential. But this is a false promise as the bill only contains vague promises to create plans at a later date or internal policies with no outside accountability. HB97/SB153 acknowledges that breaches will occur as it instructs the advisory board to develop “plans for responding to security breaches.”
The philosophical foundation of HB97/ SB153 is that central planning works, that governments have the right to monitor the movements of individuals in addition to collecting unlimited information on private citizens throughout the course of their lives. These premises violate essential liberties that must be respected in a free society and violate the proper role of government in society. Human history has provided many examples of what types of government abuses result when this type of power is given to the government. If the government has the right to track and collect personal information through-out the course of an individual’s life, then there is no truly free citizen.
Only current state and Federal law are mentioned in HB97/SB153 as privacy protections; but the comprehensive Student and Parent Privacy Protection Bill was not passed in the last Alabama legislative session. In addition, the Alabama bills cite dependence on the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which was passed in 1974. However, the Federal Department of Education gutted FERPA in December of 2011. On January 3, 2012, changes went into effect that allowed for the collection of student data by third parties. FERPA is outdated to address current privacy threats with the changes from emerging technology. Thus there is no state or federal law which protects the massive amount of student data that will be collected in this longitudinal data system.
At the first senate meeting on the bill this session the sponsor claimed the purpose of the bill was “to meet the demands of industry.” This vague purpose is focused subsidization of certain business interests and increasing power of unelected state agency heads. This alliance is for the mutual benefit of these special interests, but not for students. Parents and students should know that this bill allows and requires a centrally controlled data collection system to track students through the course of their lives and to collect unlimited personal information on students and potentially other citizens.
Alabamians, parents and eligible students must ask themselves how important their privacy is because it is about to be handed over to a state agency and an advisory board controlled by special interests.
Students, parents and private citizens were not allowed to speak at House and Senate meetings on the bills this week even though public hearings were requested. Yet multiple government agencies were allowed to speak in support of the bills.
Apparently for supporters of HB97/SB153 your child’s privacy means less than the misguided demands of big industry and bureaucrats.
Rep. Terri Collins has introduced HB97, the State Longitudinal Database bill (companion bill is SB153). The Alabama Department of Labor has promised the bill does not allow for collection of private and personal student information, but the bill itself contradicts the department. It describes, “security clearance requirements for individuals with access to personally identifiable information.”
The bill’s sponsor describes its purpose “is to meet the demands of industry”. It is not the duty of government to train workers for industry or to track students into state selected jobs. Regardless, there is no reason important enough to turn over any of your child’s personal, non-academic information. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, ” The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
There are no real protections outlined in the bill. Only current state and Federal law are mentioned. Dependence is placed upon FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act), which is a federal act that was gutted in December 2011. With FERPA, data collection is now available to third parties. The comprehensive Student and Parent Privacy Protection bill could have provided significant protection, but Rep. Collins refused even to bring it before her Education Policy Committee for discussion last year.
HB97 acknowledges that breaches will occur as it instructs the advisory board to develop “plans for responding to security breaches.”
Protecting student privacy rights should come first when making public policy and legislative decisions. Please encourage your legislators to vote NO on HB97 and its companion Senate Bill, SB 153.
You may reach your House member by calling 334-242-7600 and asking for their office. The Senate number is 334-242-7800.
To find your legislators, visit http://alabamaeagle.org/find-your-legislators
J. Pepper Bryars, who grew up in Mobile and lives in Huntsville, is a conservative columnist for AL.com. Contact him at [email protected].
Alabama’s conservative State Legislature should have severed our connection to Common Core years ago, but thanks to a rather muddled opposition effort and lack of responsiveness from our lawmakers, the disastrous scheme not only survived initial repeal efforts but it’s now on the verge of becoming a settled issue.
Just ask Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh about any further attempts to replace the standards.
“I don’t think this body really wants to deal with it, yet it keeps coming up and taking up time,” Marsh said earlier this year after a vote to repeal Common Core was postponed. “Hopefully, we addressed it for the last time today, but if it keeps coming up I will vote against it.”
With a bit of luck, the recent appointment of Michael Sentance as our state’s superintendent of public schools will cause lawmakers like Marsh to take another look at the growing body of evidence against the scheme.
Sentance has been an opponent of Common Core in the past and recently worked to have it thrown out in Massachusetts, where he once served as the state’s secretary of education.
While it remains unclear what Sentance will say about Common Core once he’s in Montgomery, he obviously hasn’t been fooled by the cleverly marketed yet woefully inadequate, completely unproven, and thoroughly domineering national system of standards. He saw first hand how Massachusetts was forced to lower its otherwise high standards to meet the scheme’s goal of redefining “success” as whatever the lowest common denominator was nationwide.
That’s what the “common” in Common Core is really all about: leveling the outcome so that all students end up with the same amount of education, and that’s achieved not by lifting the stragglers up, but by pulling the achievers down.
Sound familiar? It should, because that’s the basis of every other centrally planned scheme that we’ve suffered through.
To be fair to Marsh and others who support the standards, Common Core may have sounded like a good idea five years ago, perhaps even two years ago, but the actual results are now coming in and they’re all indicating the same thing: we’ve been fooled.
They sold the untested plan as a set of rigorous standards that would prepare our children for competitive colleges and challenging careers. But they’re not. They’re weaker, far weaker in fact, than other proven standards that we could have adopted.
Take mathematics, for instance. Jason Zimba, one of the primary authors of the math standards, admitted during a meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 that Common Core wasn’t actually designed to prepare students for selective universities or careers in the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields (STEM). It’s meant to be average, or “common,” and not rigorous at all.
If your child wants to be an engineer or enter another STEM-related field, shouldn’t you be concerned that our state has imposed a substandard standard upon his school? Or maybe you agree with Marsh and wish people would just quit bothering you about this “settled” issue.
We all want the best education for our children, but conservatives should have known better.
Anything planned in secret by a small group of unelected and unaccountable liberals, that wasn’t tried and tested in any sizable district or for any serious length of time, and was imposed without thoughtful debate was sure to be chock full of unintended consequences … and even a few intended ones that wouldn’t have passed if widely known.
Now we’re nearly stuck with it, and that’s also by design.
Before, local communities could change their district’s education policies – standards, texts, tests, etc. — because we vote on a school board who controls those things.
Now, if you have a concern with these new national standards, your local school board will simply pass the buck to the state school board, who’ll then pass the buck to the U.S. Department of Education … where it’ll become forever lost in an ocean of unaccountable and unresponsive bureaucracy. Your congressman might write them a strongly worded letter, but that’s about it.
Hopefully, the buck will now stop with Sentance, and he’ll help put an end to Common Core in Alabama.
August 15, 2016
Open letter to Alabama State Board of Education
We congratulate you in your choice of Michael Sentance, JD, as our next superintendent. Your determination to move Alabama from its current, uncharacteristic dead last position among all the other states was made apparent in your selection of a key player from the top performing state in the nation, Massachusetts. This is a strong statement that the status quo is not good enough.
It was refreshing and hopeful to hear Mr. Sentance in his interview as he explained that Alabama’s problems are comparable to what Massachusetts faced, and as he eloquently suggested solutions like those that he implemented and that worked in Massachusetts. Alabama’s success story will be even more dramatic when, God willing, Mr. Sentance puts his prior experience, his recipe for success, to work in Alabama. We believe that the road to the finest moment in Alabama education may have just begun.
Again we applaud you for taking this bold step. To have done less would have been a real disservice to our children and their future. We all agree with Mr. Sentance that we “want all kids to realize their destinies and their dreams”.
We have already contacted Mr. Sentance with our full support!
Eunie Smith, President
Leslie Whitcomb, Education Chairman
From the Alabama Political Reporter, April 27, 2016
By Brandon Moseley
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. Read the full story here.
The Alabama State Longitudinal Database System Bill or House Bill 125 (HB125) would create two new state agencies with no accountability and almost unlimited authority. The agencies’ sole purpose would be to collect information on private citizens. HB125 is currently back in the House with the Holley Amendment added which forces private schools to comply.
The first new agency created would be the Alabama Office of Education and Workforce Statistics, and the second is the powerful advisory board made up primarily of agency heads. This bill will apply to all public school students and workers leaving public education. 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). Originally, FERPA was the federal law designed to protect family privacy in education settings. However, the Federal Department of Education gutted the law in December of 2011. On January 3, 2012, changes went into effect that allowed for the collection of student data by third parties. Those parties retain ownership of the data and may share or sell it at their discretion.
The first phrase from the bill listed above, is an empty promise, as nowhere in bill are there measures to protect the data. It is important to note that 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 Holley Amendment, which Eagle Forum of Alabama has also reviewed, has now passed. It does not solve the problems of HB125. The Holley Amendment actually creates additional problems such as requiring private schools receiving any state funding to comply with this data collection program. Go to Eagle Forum of Alabama’s website to find your legislators.
Take action now! Contact your State Representative and Senator and strongly request they oppose HB125. For more information contact Deborah Love, Executive Director of Eagle Forum of Alabama at (205) 879-7096.