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AI, Cyber Security, & E-Rate

November 6, 2023

Federal policy conversations may seem to be gridlocked—hello, annual appropriations work and the recent three-week endeavor to get a Speaker of the House. That doesn’t mean it’s a full ground stop, though, especially as it relates to education technology and connectivity. We want to use this month’s The Advocate to provide a quick recap and update on all things connectivity, student data and privacy, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence.

  • Connectivity: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the agency with jurisdiction over the E-Rate program. Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced her Learn Without Limits initiative this summer, a proposal that would allow E-Rate dollars to be used for Wi-Fi on buses and to provide connectivity via the Emergency Connectivity Fund, and a third proposal to use $200 million in Universal Service Funding to support a 3-year pilot on cybersecurity protections for K12 schools. AASA supports all three proposals. Movement on anything at the FCC has been locked; the FCC is supposed to have five commissioners but was operating with only four until early October. With the fifth Commissioner—Cmsr Gomez—onboarded, the FCC was able to take action, and one of their first steps forward was to adopt the proposal to use E-Rate dollars for Wi-Fi on buses. The vote allows the E-Rate funding to be used to fund Wi-Fi on school buses, as well as any E-Rate-eligible equipment needed to enable the service, as part of the funding year 2024 eligible services list proceeding. The FCC has yet to act on the remaining two proposals, but they are expected to move through a traditional rule-making (not just a vote), and we will call on AASA members to support filing comments.
  • Student Data and Privacy: The conversations on Capitol Hill are largely focused on student mental health and social media, but when push comes to shove about legislative proposals, the two most likely legislative vehicles under consideration are the Senate Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). AASA has historically opposed these bills as drafted, though we are optimistic that negotiations in late summer/early fall have resulted in legislative changes that will allow us to be neutral on the bills, if/when they should come to the floor. At this time, there is no clear timeline for the next legislative step. One of the latest episodes of our recently relaunched policy podcast PEP Talk (Public Education Policy Talk) is all about student data and privacy. Give it a listen!
  • Cybersecurity: AASA is pleased to participate in USED’s Education Government Coordinating Council. Announced back in August, the council is intended to coordinate activities, policy, and communications between federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments that strengthen the cyber defenses and resilience of K-12 schools and is part of the broader federal response to K12 cyber resilience.
  • Artificial Intelligence: We are excited to have locked in TWO sessions on AI policy as part of the advocacy team content at the National Conference on Education (Register today, we hope to see you there!). Earlier this week, the White House released an executive order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence. Specific to education, the order directs the US Education Department (USED) to develop resources, policies, and guidance aimed at responsible development and deployment of AI in the education sector. This includes guidance on how schools can use AI technology equitably, with a focus on AI’s effects on vulnerable and underserved communities. This is related to an USED AI Toolkit that will address how to implement AI tools to both comply with privacy rules and enhance trust/safety. USED has 365 days to develop this guidance. The Justice Department has to coordinate with federal civil rights officials on ways to investigate discrimination driven by algorithms. Read more on The Leading Edge blog.
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