New Utah education group plan ignites data concerns

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 9:10 AM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY — Even with concerns that sensitive data could be at risk, Utah lawmakers want to move ahead with creating another education group and amending the rules of another.

In action taken earlier this week, members of a state education task force voted to give a favorable recommendation to the proposed creation of the Utah Education and Workforce Alliance and supported an amendment to require the Utah Futures Advisory Committee to report to the proposed new committee.

The moves, which will be subject to legislative review when the 2014 Legislature convenes, are data driven, according to bill sponsor, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. He maintains state lawmakers and educators need information to make data-driven decisions.

The UDWA, if approved, would be charged with providing information from a data warehouse to the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst or the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel. The Utah Futures Advisory Committee would report to the workforce alliance governing board. UtahFutures is an online resource intended to help students make education and career plans online. Stephenson maintains UtahFutures has not been successful, since students only access it at school, not at home.

He said bringing the new group and UtahFutures together will create a governance model in making key decisions involving education.

“Good data helps us improve instruction,” Stephenson said.

Tami Pyfer of the state Board of Education worries the new committee would put more sensitive data in jeopardy.

She is not alone in that concern. Peter Cannon, a member of the Davis School District Board of Education, speaking for himself, worried about the security risk of aggregating data at a task force meeting earlier this fall. He said settings up multiple smaller systems are easy to defend against data breaches.

Stephenson maintains protecting student data will be addressed as the bill moves forward.

Concerns about the merger go beyond data for some lawmakers.

“Why are we creating another bureaucracy in addressing Utah’s future?” Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, asked. He wondered why a study isn’t being done, instead of creating another entity.

Stephenson contends the new group won’t add another layer of bureaucracy. “We may end up being a smaller entity than we currently have,” Stephenson said.

The board of the proposed new data alliance would include 13 members including the lieutenant governor, who would serve as chair.

The new group would also be charged with evaluating whether UtahFutures should be outsourced to a private provider.

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