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Common Sense Media Launches $20M Education Advocacy Effort

By guest blogger Audrey Armitage

UPDATED

National education and technology nonprofit Common Sense Media announced this week its launch of Common Sense Kids Action, a $20 million nationwide project aimed at prioritizing education issues through a range of legislative and political efforts.

Common Sense Kids Action will be "the first mass constituency base working to engage parents, teachers, and anyone interested in education in making kids and education the nation's top priority," said James Steyer, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Common Sense, in an interview.

The advocacy efforts will focus on a variety of education issues, including early childhood education, teacher training and professional development, effective technology use in schools, career training and preparation for students, student data privacy, and childhood poverty and economic inequality.

Common Sense was a lead creator and sponsor of California's Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, which received support from the Obama administration as a model for federal student data privacy legislation. 

Reps. Jared Polis and Luke Messer introduced Wednesday a revamped "Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015," aimed at limiting companies' access to and use of student data.

Common Sense Kids Action will push policymakers in at least a dozen states to replicate California's data-privacy legislation, Steyer said. 

Increasing broadband access for students and schools will be another key focus for the organization. Over the past year, the Federal Communications Commission overhauled the federal E-rate program, adding billions of dollars in funding to support school and library Internet connectivity. Steyer described plans to help states "take advantage of new E-rate funds and the modernization of E-rate program, so that every classroom will be wired with broadband access." 

The program will emphasize improving broadband access for low-income families. Steyer highlighted a growing "homework gap," as assignments are increasingly given online or on computers, not being able to complete online assignments at home due to lack of Web access can put low-income students at a disadvantage. (See Education Week's recent coverage examining how some districts are attempting to boost students' connectivity away from school.) 

To help address digital inequalities, Common Sense Kids Action will work with a coalition of education, civil rights, and business groups to urge the expand the FCC's Lifeline program, which provides discount phone services to low-income families.

Although Common Sense is starting out with substantial resources for the advocacy effort, tackling such a broad range of projects is an ambitious undertaking, said Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the National Education Policy Center. He said the intentions of Common Sense Kids Action are good, but the organization should consider collaborating with more groups than it is currently working with. He also noted that there was a "surprising lack of teacher voice" in the project.

When asked if $20 million was enough to adequately support the wide range of project goals Common Sense Kids Action will undertake, spokeswoman Lisa Cohen said the advocacy is a "long-term effort," and that the organization will continue to raise money to make sure it's able to reach a broad audience.

Common Sense media already reaches an enormous audience; Steyer estimates that 65 million individuals use the organization's various online services. That means Common Sense can set ambitious goals for its new advocacy outreach efforts, said Steyer, who cited one particularly politically influential group in particular as a model. Common Sense Kids Action hopes to become an "AARP for kids and education," he said, and a "a nonpartisan voice for kids in schools."


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