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OBE Protest

February 07, 1996
By: Joseph Morton
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The state's Show-Me standards for public schools may have achieved final approval last month, but the standards' opponents demonstrated on Wednesday that they are not about to give up the fight.

About 150 protesters, many with children in tow, gathered on the steps of the Capitol for a rally staged by Missourians for Academic Excellence.

"We've come to the Capital to tell Gov. Carnahan, the State Board of Education and Bob Bartman that we're taking back our schools," said Lynette Holt, the group's chairwoman.

Republicans in both the House and the Senate are championing the group's efforts. Sen. Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit, who is planning a run for the governor's office, was particularly visible at the rally.

"Senate Bill 380 gutted the education system we grew up with and replaced it with political correctness and paybacks to the teachers' unions," Kenney said. Kenney also said the standards set up "glorified trade schools training a compliant work force."

Many of those attending the rally said the Show-Me standards move away from teaching basic skills and focus too much on teaching values, which should be left up parents.

They also expressed concern about the state taking control away from local school officials and said the standards were forced on Missouri citizens by the governor and his allies, including education lobbying groups such as the teachers' unions.

Supporters of the standards said the protesters represent a fringe element of the state's population.

"These are people who have an extreme view of public education," said Chris Sifford, Carnahan's spokesman. "Many of them are actually opposed to public education. They are on the radical right."

Bob Bartman, commissioner of education, said the standards, which went through a lengthy process of public input, do stress basic skills and leave plenty of control to local school districts.

"The Show-Me standards are A-plus on basics," Bartman said. "They strike a balance between local control of schools and statewide education goals."

Children came close to outnumbering adults at Wednesday's rally. Many of the parents said they were able to bring their children because they are taught at home.

"I think it's important that they be a part of this," said Holt, who took her own children out of school for the event. "It's also a good civics lesson."

Holt also brought six bills which reflect the group's concerns. The bills would repeal the Outstanding Schools Act and put it to a vote of the people. Holt said she expects legislators who support her group to sponsor the bills.

But so far, opposition to the Outstanding Schools Act has made little headway in the legislature.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, would insert language calling for a focus on "basic knowledge" and "quantitative assessments" into the state's education standards was rejected by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.

But the committee's decision may not be final. Only one vote on the committee needs to be changed to get the bill before the full Senate.

Supporters of the current standards say Ehlmann's bill, as it is, does little to change the standards. But they warn that far more serious changes could be proposed as amendments if the bill reaches the Senate floor.

"Right now the bill itself doesn't hurt the standards," said Bob Quinn, legislative director for the National Education Association. "But it would be real easy to start offering amendments to it once it's on the Senate floor."