Tallahassee, Florida -- Parents across Florida should not be concerned about legislation involving a state database of information about public school students, according to Sen. Bill Galvano.
He's trying to correct what he sees as a misunderstanding among parents about what the bill does. Some parents mistakenly think the measure creates a new way to collect information about their children.
But Galvano, R-Bradenton, says the bill actually aims to place stricter controls over an existing state database of information about public school students.
For the last 12 years, the Florida Department of Education has collected and stored students' data on test scores, dropout rates and class choices to identify trends in education. Sen. Galvano says that information is made available to researchers and other branches of government in an effort to improve the education system.
He says the problem with the database is that it is controlled by the Department of Education without adequate safeguards. So his bill creates protocols under the law on how student data is collected and stored.
"What this bill does is create statutory protocols, strengthens the way this data is collected and stored and disseminated. In other words, it takes us to a level beyond where federal law protects and makes Florida's even more protective of this information."
For example, Galvano says the new rules prohibit collecting data about a student's religious or political affiliations, or private family information. It also requires that no personal identifiable information is attached to the data when it's accessed by researchers.
The bill creates stronger penalties for misusing the data than provided in federal law.
Galvano says he thinks parents have misunderstood the bill and also misunderstood that the state has been collecting the data since 2001.
He says the bill is not a new collection of data and, in fact, creates greater limitations on how the data is collected and used, and places more safeguards on personal information.
"It's actually the opposite of the concerns that have been expressed. I think a lot of parents didn't realize that we had data collected and it has been collected for quite some time. I don't think they realize that this data is accessible and has been disseminated. On first impression, some may have seen this bill as a new source collection of data and that's not the case at all. In fact, quite the contrary. This bill will put into law limitations on the data.
Galvano says the bill bans the data for any kind of commercial use.
The measure has passed the Senate, but was amended in the House so now it heads back to the Senate.