Ed-Tech Policy

Schools Are Major Targets of Cyberattacks. A Bipartisan Effort in Congress Aims to Help

By Lauraine Langreo — April 20, 2023 3 min read
Silhouette of a hacker in a hoodie using laptop with binary code overlay.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers reintroduced legislation that they argue would strengthen cybersecurity in schools.

The Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act would give schools and districts better access to cybersecurity resources and improve tracking of K-12 cyberattacks nationally. The bill is sponsored by Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., and Zach Nunn, R-Iowa, and Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Mark Warner, D-Va.

The proposal comes as cyberattacks targeting schools are becoming more common and more sophisticated. There have been 1,619 publicly disclosed cyber incidents between 2016 and 2022, according to K12 Security Information Exchange (K12 SIX), a nonprofit focused on helping schools prevent cyberattacks. Hackers have targeted districts of all sizes, including Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second largest.

“Cybercriminals are rapidly evolving their strategies to cause chaos and disruption, yet a lack of resources for our schools is forcing them to do more with less,” said Matsui, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, in a statement. “The Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act would establish a crucial roadmap to prepare our K-12 cyberinfrastructure for future attacks.”

The legislation would direct the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to establish a Cybersecurity Incident Registry to track incidents of cyberattacks on K-12 schools. Submitting incidents to the registry would be voluntary, and the information would be used to conduct trend analyses, increase awareness, and develop strategies to prevent and respond to incidents.

“There are a lot of very strong reasons that we want school systems to share information about their experience with cybersecurity,” said Doug Levin, the national director of K12 SIX. It informs policymakers, it helps law enforcement, it helps other school systems protect themselves from copycat attacks, and it informs the public if sensitive data has been inappropriately accessed.

While “it’s not unusual to see voluntary reporting regimes, the jury’s out on how effective that may be,” Levin said. “If there is not a direct return to the organization who is submitting that information, it just feels like an unfunded mandate. If the data goes into a black hole and if they’re not seeing a benefit, it can be difficult to convince people to do that work.”

Having voluntary reporting systems also means that districts might underreport incidents, Levin said.

Some states, such as New York and Texas, mandate K-12 schools to report data breaches and cyberattacks. And a federal cybersecurity incident reporting law passed in 2022 might include schools as one of the organizations required to report, but it’s still going through the rulemaking process, according to Levin.

The Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act would also establish a program, which would be funded up to $20 million over two fiscal years, that would help districts address cybersecurity risks and threats to their information systems and networks.

The legislation would also direct CISA to establish a Cybersecurity Information Exchange to publish information, best practices, and grant opportunities to improve cybersecurity.

“This [$20 million] is a drop in the bucket in terms of need. I certainly wouldn’t say that it is sufficient,” Levin said. “But if invested smartly, at a national level, it can make a tremendous difference.”

The bill was first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2021 with bipartisan support. While it didn’t advance, Congress instead passed the K-12 Cybersecurity Act, which mandated CISA to publish a report on the risks K-12 schools face, along with recommendations and resources to help schools reduce risks and maintain resilient cybersecurity programs.

The CISA report was published in January and showed that the K-12 sector is becoming increasingly vulnerable and needs assistance. The agency recommended implementing effective security measures, addressing resources constraints, and focusing on collaboration.

Education organizations such as the State Educational Technology Directors Association and the Consortium for School Networking have endorsed the bill.

“It’s encouraging that Congress is continuing to be responsive, at least in part, to the concerns of the K-12 community,” Levin said. “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. So whether it is this [bill] or something like this, the support from Congress would be much appreciated and put to good use.”

Related Tags:


Student Well-Being Webinar After-School Learning Top Priority: Academics or Fun?
Join our expert panel to discuss how after-school programs and schools can work together to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Ed-Tech Policy We Asked ChatGPT: Should Schools Ban You?
The debate about the benefits and drawbacks of artificial intelligence, and more specifically ChatGPT, is heating up.
1 min read
Vector illustration of the letters AI partially breaking through the red circle and slash symbol representing it being banned
Tech luminaries and prominent AI researchers signed an open letter calling for temporarily putting the brakes on development of AI technologies.
Ed-Tech Policy Congress Tells TikTok CEO: The App Is Bad for Students and Privacy
TikTok spreads misinformation, endangers children’s mental health, and jeopardizes their privacy, lawmakers said.
3 min read
Supporters of TikTok hold signs during a rally to defend the app at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 22, 2023. The House holds a hearing Thursday, with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and impact on kids.
Supporters of TikTok hold signs during a rally to defend the app at the Capitol in Washington on March 22, 2023. The House held a hearing the next day with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and its impact on kids.
Jose Luis Magana/AP
Ed-Tech Policy TikTok Is Raising National Security, Privacy Concerns. Should Educators Steer Clear?
The social media video app is raising national security concerns that could ultimately get the platform banned in the U.S.
7 min read
The icon for TikTok pictured in New York on Feb. 25, 2020.
The icon for TikTok pictured in New York on Feb. 25, 2020.
Ed-Tech Policy Opinion Should Teachers Be Allowed to Use Online Tools to Monitor Student Screens?
For some teachers, that's a no-no. Others see the merit in watching their students work in real time.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."