California’s SB 876: A Missed Opportunity for Education Technology

California’s SB 876 is a bill that would create a state Digital Education Equity Program (DEEP). This program will be run by the California Department of Education, and the sponsors of the bill argue it would give help and training to schools and other educational organizations in using technology in their classrooms.

The bill would require the California Department of Education to authorize grants to each of the state’s 58 county offices of education. Each county office of education would have to tell the department of education what they did with the money, who they helped, and how much money they used every year. (One of the co-authors of this post sat for some years on a county board of education and can testify that county offices don’t have the capacity to properly evaluate grant proposals in this area.)

Much of the impetus for the bill appears to be addressing the “digital divide” in education. The digital divide refers to “the gap between those with sufficient knowledge of and access to technology and those without,” per an American University blog post

According to the bill’s author: 

Educators in many schools lack access to sufficient information and professional development to cost-effectively plan for and implement current and emerging technology to support instruction. … Without a coordinated State and regional focus on policy, programs, and funding, many districts do not have equal access to the resources needed to select, access, and implement technology in classrooms effectively and to provide students access to these resources from homes.

In theory, DEEP would aim to help schools improve their use of technology in the classroom by providing funding for things like teacher training, resources and equipment, and online instruction. It would supposedly also help align technology use with the state’s education standards.

However, SB 876 still appears to be somewhat vague in its approach. While the bill lays out the general goal of providing technical assistance and teacher professional development to local educational agencies on the implementation of educational technology, it does not offer specific details on how this would be achieved. The Senate Floor Analyses states that DEEP will provide guidelines to “more effectively address locally determined educational needs with the use of technology,” so perhaps the guidelines will curb some of the ambiguity. 

One major concern with this proposal is the lack of emphasis on cybersecurity and student digital privacy. Given the recent data breaches that have affected universities and schools, it is crucial that any program related to educational technology prioritizes the protection of sensitive student information. However, the bill does not address these concerns in any meaningful way.

Without relevant technology reforms, this bill falls flat. Research has shown that there is a poor correlation between extra school funds and student outcomes. Simply sending money to school districts won’t improve their performance. 

During the pandemic, schools had to confront new remote-learning challenges [remote learning], and at times, schools waded waist-deep in potential student privacy violations and cybersecurity risks. This bill should have been an opportune time to reconsider such Orwellian monitoring of students.

It’s important for schools to take data security seriously, as they have a considerable amount of sensitive information on students and staff. The state should also make it easier for people to take legal action against organizations that don’t properly protect their data. In light of current digital security and student privacy concerns, it would be more beneficial for legislators to focus on developing legislation that addresses these specific issues.

Williamson M. Evers is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Educational Excellence at the Independent Institute.

Jonathan Hofer is a Research Associate at the Independent Institute.
Beacon Posts by Williamson M. Evers and Jonathan Hofer
  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless