Sheldon Silver: Suspend inBloom student-data cloud plan

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

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ALBANY -- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called on the state Education Department Thursday to suspend a plan to share student data with a private high-tech corporation, lending significant political muscle to a burgeoning movement.

Silver (D-Manhattan) and more than 40 other Assembly Democrats signed a letter to Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., saying they had "serious concerns about the potential flaws" in a plan to share data with inBloom, a nonprofit Atlanta-based corporation.

The new data system would store records for some 2.3 million students, including academic and disciplinary reports, using "cloud" technology. The corporation is funded largely by a $100 million contribution from software billionaire Bill Gates' family foundation.

Silver said the Democrats don't have confidence that the company can protect students' identifiable information from "falling into the wrong hands."

"Until we are confident that this information can remain protected, the plan to share student data with inBloom must be put on hold," Silver said in a statement. Assembly Education Committee chairwoman Cathy Nolan (D-Queens) also signed the letter to King.

An Education Department official said the agency had the "strongest confidence" in the security of the data system.

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"We share their concerns about the importance of protecting student privacy and take the issues they've raised very seriously," Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins said in a statement. "While we continue to have the strongest confidence in the security . . . we will, of course, review all of the concerns raised by" Silver and Nolan.

The Assembly push comes one week after Senate Education Committee chairman John Flanagan (R-East Northport) introduced a bill to delay the plan to hand over records to inBloom by one year and sharply curtail the scope of records provided.

Flanagan's proposal would restrict inBloom's ability to collect data by allowing local school districts to opt out of participation. It also would create a new Parents' Bill of Rights on privacy issues.

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"I take this as a good sign," Flanagan said Thursday. "It's a clear demonstration that this area is ripe for discussion and there are very fundamental concerns about data and the direction we're going in."

When he announced his proposal, Flanagan said: "I think we need to take a step back. The public, I would say at this point, is beyond frustrated."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office did not immediately comment.

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