Guarding students’ online privacy

In September, the California Legislature sent a measure to Gov. Jerry Brown that will require companies servicing educational-technology platforms in the classroom keep student data private and never use it for commercial purposes.  The Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA) solidifies California’s standing as a leader in crafting smart public policy that extends common sense protections for kids and families.

Much of that reputation is due to the efforts of the bill’s author, former Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who is being forced from office by term limits this year. Throughout his 14-year career in the Legislature – the last six as the leader of the state senate – Steinberg has been one of California’s greatest champions for kids.

Last year, Gov. Brown signed the bill he introduced that gives minors the legal right to hit an online “eraser button,” deleting their youthful digital indiscretions.

From transforming our education system to promoting more career-technical education, to championing the causes of the most forgotten kids through his advocacy for foster youth and mental-health programs, Steinberg has been a consistent advocate for California’s children. Here’s hoping lawmakers in Washington and in statehouses around the country follow his example.

Steinberg, whose political career began on the Sacramento city council, has earned a reputation as a leader who helps give voice to the powerless and stands up for those whose interests are often overwhelmed by the big-monied players in Sacramento. Whether its securing funding for the mentally ill, ensuring poor kids have access to early education programs or fighting to restore dental benefits for Medi-Cal recipients, Steinberg has made his mark fighting for what’s right, not the highest bidder.

Perhaps Steinberg’s largest mark has been made in the area of mental health. He has helped California reverse a decades-long trend of neglect of those suffering from mental illness. In 2004, he sponsored a statewide ballot measure imposing a 1% tax on incomes of more than $1 million to raise money for mental-health programs. Thanks to Steinberg’s efforts, that policy now raises more than $1 billion per year.

His fight for the mentally ill has extended to the backroom deal making of the state budget. At Steinberg’s request, the state set aside an additional $300 million for more much-needed mental-health services this year.

Education has been another major focus for Steinberg. He has proposed ambitious legislation to rebuild California’s workforce development programs – what used to be known as vocational education. Steinberg has worked to make sure our kids are prepared for the 21st Century economy, even if they are not on track to go to college.

He has also worked to make sure kids from all socio-economic backgrounds are given the opportunity to succeed. Just this year, Steinberg helped secure a commitment to expand pre-kindergarten to all low-income four-year olds — 43,000 additional children whose families may not otherwise be able to afford private preschool.

Steinberg has also been at the forefront of Internet privacy, particularly as it pertains to our children. Last year, Gov. Brown signed the bill he introduced that gives minors the legal right to hit an online “eraser button,” deleting their youthful digital indiscretions.

The bill, SB 568, was a major step to protect our children by increasing privacy protections for minors on the Internet, in the face of sometimes-predatory practices from some of the world’s largest technology companies.

Steinberg’s Student Online Personal Information Protection Act will close a loophole in state law that allows companies to compile and use student data for non-educational purposes.

Steinberg’s tenacity, priorities and legislative ability have enabled him to score key victories for California’s children. Our state and our nation would be well served if we had more leaders follow suit, and continue to fight for our kids.

Ed’s Note:  James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media.

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