Bill to strengthen data sharing passes Senate

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By Whitney Burdette 
Charleston Daily Mail Staff

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A data sharing system that collects information on school children of all ages in an effort to improve education practices could get a little stronger.

The Senate on Monday passed Senate Bill 420, relating to the P-20W Longitudinal Data System. This system collects certain information on children that officials can analyze to assess progress beginning in early childhood education and continuing through college and into employment. Confidential information, such as Social Security numbers, email addresses, religious affiliation, firearm ownership, family criminal history, handwriting samples and credit history, among other things, are exempt from data collection.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said in speaking to the bill he wanted to go on record as clearing up some misconceptions.

"Since I know this is a vote there is a lot of public interest in relative to the Common Core, at least this bill has several restrictions whether you're up or down on it, I want to point that out publicly," Hall said. "There is a long list of things that cannot be collected."

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Senate Bill 420 gives the P-20W Longitudinal Data System guidelines on how to operate and what information to collect.

"The database is done in West Virginia, the backup is done in West Virginia," Plymale said. "Once again, there will not be information going around and out through there. We have been known as having one of the best state longitudinal data systems in the country, going back to the late 1980s, early 1990s."

Plymale said the bill is subject to rules that must go through the Legislative Oversight Committee on Educational Accountability, as well as the full Legislature.

"The Legislature will see that at all times," he said.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said he's heard some misconception about the bill, too. Particularly, one radio talk show host out of Huntington has encouraged listeners to contact lawmakers and urge them to vote against SB 420, citing privacy concerns.

"Those issues are justifiable," Barnes said. "I want to make it very clear to those folks who are listening today and listening to him tomorrow, we already have a long data system in place that is already gathering information. This Legislature, therefore, clarifies with the amendments that have been made, what is confidential information. If we don't pass this bill today, the Longitudinal Data System moves forward without the privacy protections the chairman of education has so judiciously helped us put in."

The bill passed 31-3, with Senators Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, David Nohe, R-Wood, and Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, voting against. The bill will now go to the House of Delegates.