Democrats Push Education Secretary to Address K-12 Cyber Threats

Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., and Jim Langevin, D-R.I., urged Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in an April 1 letter to address the growing cybersecurity threat facing K-12 schools by issuing guidance that will give K-12 schools more confidence in making investments in increased cybersecurity measures.

The legislators cited a recent report from the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center that found a surge in cyberattacks against K-12 schools, and saying that changes in education modalities due to the pandemic are largely to blame. Specifically, there were 408 cyberattacks against K-12 schools in 2020, compared to 348 in 2019. The FBI also issued an advisory last year on cyber threats facing K-12 schools noting, “Cyber actors likely view schools as targets of opportunity, and these types of attacks are expected to continue through the 2020/2021 academic year.”

“While the shift to online interaction has helped keep students engaged, it has also highlighted a growing threat – cyber-incidents targeting schools that are increasing in regularity and sophistication,” the members of Congress said. “In light of this well-documented threat, we believe that the Department must be doing everything it can to support schools in protecting the confidentiality of students’ data and ensuring the availability of information technology systems essential for learning.”

To help schools deal with COVID-19-related changes, Congress allocated K-12 funding as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA) Act. Congress specifically allocated money for the purchase of “educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students” as part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.

“While schools can reasonably interpret this text to indicate cybersecurity costs would be considered eligible expenses, written guidance from the Department to that effect will ensure schools have the information they need to make informed decisions about how to use these funds,” the legislators wrote.

In a press release, Rep. Matsui and Sen. Langevin said their letter has the support of the Council of Chief State School Officers, State Educational Technology Directors Association, National Association of State Chief Information Officers, Alliance for Excellent Education, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, and Consortium for School Networking.

Kate Polit
About Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs