NAICU Washington Update

Efforts to Build Student Unit Record Data System Move in a New Direction

July 25, 2007

While failing to obtain congressional approval and funding to create a national student record database, advocates are now hoping to arrive at the same place by going through the states.  Recent efforts have focused on establishing longitudinal data systems at the state level that might ultimately be linked to one another, creating a comprehensive national system.

Evidence of the shift away from a national to state-by-state approach is reflected in the Higher Education Reauthorization bill approved by the Senate (S. 1642) this week.  A provision of the bill prohibits the use of funds to establish a Department of Education database of individual student information, but specifically notes that the prohibition is not intended to prevent states or groups of states from developing longitudinal student unit record systems.

In addition, the managers' amendment to S. 1642 includes authority for a state higher education information system pilot program.  Under this program, up to five states would receive funds to design, develop, and implement comprehensive postsecondary student data systems.  This provision was included at the request of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

The shift is also evidenced by the House Appropriations Committee's rejection of an administration request for $25 million to conduct a pilot study of a student unit record data system.  "The Department has not made a convincing case that the benefits of a national database containing individual student records outweigh the costs of establishing and maintaining such a system," the committee report states.  "Further, the Department has not adequately addressed privacy concerns."

However, the FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, as recently approved by the House, does include $37.5 million to continue a pilot program by the Department's Institution of Education Sciences (IES) for the design and implementation of statewide systems.  The committee's view, as stated in the report on the bill, is that "such data systems help States to efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, disaggregate, and use individual student data consistent with the No Child Left Behind Act."  

The initial set of grants under the IES program were made in November 2005, when 14 states were awarded a total of $52.8 million to develop these systems. Then early this month, IES announced additional awards of $62.2 million to 13 states for the design and implementation of statewide longitudinal data systems. 

Most efforts in this area have focused initially on data systems at the elementary and secondary level.  However, the long-term vision is to expand them through postsecondary education and possibly beyond.
Finally, last week the Senate requested a conference with the House on math and science competitiveness legislation.  The Senate version of this legislation (S. 761) includes grant support for statewide P-16 education data systems.  (See WIR, 10/02/06, 5/08/07), while the House version of the measure (H.R. 2272) doesn't include support for the systems.

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