State Office of Education Operating Database to Track Individuals Without Authority   2 comments

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The following letter is reposted with permission from Libertas Institute, a Utah-based conservative think-tank.  It was given to members of the Utah legislature two weeks ago.

It concerns the State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) which was implemented in Utah –and in every state, thanks to federal bribery– just a few years ago.

Each SLDS runs according to federal specs and is interoperable.  Thus, the fifty SLDS systems function together as a “de facto” federal stalking system on children, college students, and the members of the U.S. workforce.  Every state’s “voluntary” SLDS feeds its data about citizens to the federal EdFacts data exchange.

Libertas Institute points out that SLDS was created and is being used without voter approval or representation; there was no legislative knowledge or debate, and there has been no effort to promote parental knowledge or to acquire parental/student consent for this massive, lifelong data mining project.

Action step:  after you read this letter, please contact your legislators (here is contact info for Utah legislators, the governor and  D.C. legislators)   to put them on the task of creating, at the very least, an immediate, definite, parental-opt-out bill.

 ————————————————————————–

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September 28, 2015

To: Members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee

 

Senators and Representatives,

 

The Utah State Office of Education (USOE) will be in your meeting tomorrow, among other

things, to explain the Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS)—a large database that

stores a lengthy list of data points on each child in Utah’s public schools. We are concerned

with how this database was set up and how it’s being used; as we are unable to attend the

meeting, we wish to briefly outline key concerns for your consideration.

 

We allege that USOE created, and now operates, this database without any legislative

authorization or oversight. Further, the federal funding USOE has obtained in order to build

and operate the database has required them to make certain policy commitments, as you’ll

see below, that exceed their authority and circumvented any public discussion on the matter.

 

This letter outlines three actions of which you should be aware:

1. The “Four Assurances” promised by Governor Huntsman

2. A grant received by USOE to build the federally compliant SLDS

3. The 2015 grant announced just last week to further develop and utilize the SLDS

 

The “Four Assurances” promised by Governor Huntsman

 

On April 15, 2009, Governor Jon Huntsman signed an Application for Initial Funding under

the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program, submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

The purpose of this application was to obtain federal “stimulus” dollars; here is the

explanation from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE):

 

The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) program is a new one-time appropriation of $53.6 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Of the amount appropriated, the U. S. Department of Education will award governors approximately $48.6 billion by formula under the SFSF program in exchange for a commitment to advance essential education reforms…

 

Without legislative authorization or guarantee, the Governor made four assurances to the

USDOE—a required step in order to receive any many. Those assurances were as follows:

 

 

1. The State of Utah will take actions to “improve teacher effectiveness” and “address

inequities in the distribution of highly qualified teachers between high- and low-poverty

schools”

2. The State of Utah will “establish a longitudinal data system”

3. The State will –

 

1. Enhance the quality of the academic assessments it administers…

2. Comply with the requirements… related to the inclusion of children with

disabilities and limited English proficient students in State assessments, the

development of valid and reliable assessments for those students, and the

provision of accommodations that enable their participation in State assessments;

(Inclusion Assurance) and

3. Take steps to improve State academic content standards and student academic

achievement standards consistent with section 6401(e)(1)(A)(ii) of the America

COMPETES Act. (Improving Standards Assurance)

4. The State will ensure compliance with the requirements of section 1116(b)(7)(C)(iv) and

section 1116(b)(8)(B) of the ESEA with respect to schools identified under these sections.

(Supporting Struggling Schools Assurance)

 

Thus, without any legislation to back it up, the federal government was promised significant

policy reforms in the state: common education standards (“Common Core”), new

assessments, teacher evaluations, school grading, and a comprehensive data collection system.

 

All of this was done in pursuit of money; less than a year later, U.S. Secretary of Education

Arne Duncan announced that Utah had been showered with $741,979,396 through the

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Utah lawmakers—and thus the public at large—were left out of the loop.

 

A grant received by USOE to build the federally compliant SLDS

 

Under the same Recovery (“stimulus”) Act, USOE was given a grant of $9.6 million to create

the Utah Data Alliance—a longitudinal database that was fully compliant with USDOE

requirements. While data systems had obviously existed previous to this grant, this one was

geared, as USOE wrote, primarily towards satisfying questions and requirements “asked by

the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Institute of Educational Sciences

(IES), SLDS grants program; the ARRA, Race to the Top (RttT); and the State Fiscal

Stabilization Fund (SFSF) assurances”—all federal mandates tied to funding USOE desired.

 

The Utah legislature did not authorize the creation of the SLDS, to our knowledge. The only

statutory references we have been able to identify refer to the already-existing database. For

example, Senate Bill 82 in 2013 (which passed and was signed into law) had this language:

(e) “Utah Student Record Store” means a repository of student data collected

from LEAs as part of the state’s longitudinal data system that is:

(i) managed by the Utah State Office of Education;

(ii) cloud-based; and

(iii) accessible via a web browser to authorized LEA users.

(2) (a) The State Board of Education shall use the robust, comprehensive data

collection system maintained by the Utah State O*ce of Education…

According to USOE, a statewide longitudinal database—mostly complaint with federal

standards—had been in operation since 2005.

 

The 2015 grant announced just last week to further develop and utilize the SLDS

 

On September 17, 2015, the Institute of Education Sciences—a project housed within the U.S.

Department of Education—announced that Utah was awarded a grant under the Statewide

Longitudinal Data System Grant Program in the amount of _____AMOUNT______, along

with potential continuation grants to provide more funding in the years ahead.

USOE’s application for this grant , obtained through an open records request, sheds light on

the alarming nature of this project. In order to suggest legislative authorization for the SLDS

and Utah Data Alliance, USOE argues that “The Utah State Legislature awarded UDA

partners [individual state agencies] ongoing appropriations to support sustainability of the

original infrastructure (e.g., database, researchers, technicians, project director, and technical

contracts), which demonstrates the state’s commitment to the work and

mission of the UDA data warehouse.” In other words, narrow appropriations for data projects

in state agencies is being interpreted as blanket authority for, and support of, the overall

SLDS project. We feel this a misguided and unreasonable inference.

Further, USDOE’s Request for Applications document specifies that “a successful data system

rests upon a governance structure involving both State and local stakeholders in the system’s

design and implementation.” However, USOE’s application admits that only “A memorandum

of understanding governs the partnership. A governance plan documents the policies of the

partnership and is continuously updated and refined to address emerging governance issues.”

An MOU, which can continuously evolve free from vetted processes and public input, is

insufficient to govern the requirements of such a large database—one that has significant

privacy and security implications.

 

There are many disconcerting statements and policy priorities outlined in USOE’s

application, but our main concern here is that the real “stakeholders” have been completely

left out of the loop. From information we have gathered, the State Board of Education was

unaware of this grant application. No vote was taken on the issue. No legislative

authorization was given to compile this information on every child, make the information

available to state government agencies (including “individual-level data in the UDA data

warehouse”), or provide data to third parties. Most importantly, the true stakeholders are

almost totally unaware that this database even exists; Utah law recognizes that “the state’s

role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.”

 

You may be aware that Libertas Institute organized a lawsuit late last year against the State

Board of Education over its rushed adoption of Common Core, done in an e*ort to obtain

federal money under the Race to the Top grant. (A hearing is scheduled in a few weeks.) We

feel that a pattern exists within USOE, whereby education policy is dictated not with input

from parents and teachers, or even legislators or the State Board of Education, but by USOE’s

seemingly insatiable appetite for federal grants, which inevitably come with significant

strings.

 

If “strings” are to exist, then they must be openly discussed, debated, and authorized—not

agreed upon behind closed doors with the unscrutinized stroke of a pen.

You as legislators have been circumvented and deemed largely irrelevant on this issue.

Significant education policies are being adopted and implemented without public input. We

encourage you to take an active interest in this issue and bring transparency and scrutiny to

USOE grant applications and the policies that necessarily follow.

 

Sincerely,

 

Connor Boyack

President, Libertas Institute

785 E. 200 S., Suite 2, Lehi, UT 84043

801.901.0310

LibertasUtah.org

 

DOCUMENT SOURCES

1  Application for Initial Funding under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program, http://

www2.ed.gov/programs/statestabilization/stateapps/ut-sub.pdf

“State Fiscal Stabilization Fund,” U.S. Department of Education, March 7, 2009, http://

2  www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/recovery/factsheet/stabilization-fund.html

“UTAH STUDENT RECORDS EXCHANGE,” https://nces.ed.gov/programs/slds/pdf/

3  Utahabstract.pdf

“INFORMATION RELATED TO FY15 GRANTS,” http://nces.ed.gov/programs/slds/

4  grant_information.asp

“Enhancing Utah Data Alliance College and Career and Evaluation and Research Capabilities

5  through Web Technology,” http://libertasutah.org/drop/slds_2015.pdf

 

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2 responses to “State Office of Education Operating Database to Track Individuals Without Authority

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  1. Reblogged this on Jenny Hatch BLOG.

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