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Attack on Show-Me standards stalled

February 20, 1996
By: Joseph Morton
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Several Missouri senators leading the fight against the state's "Show-Me" standards for schoolchildren lost one of three avenues of attack this week.

The Show-Me standards, adopted by the state Board of Education in January, take effect today (FRIDAY, FEB. 16). On Monday, the Joint Administrative Rules Committee heard testimony on the standards - but took no action.

Witnesses testified for about an hour at the hearing before the committee adjourned without any vote.

"I think this issue has been laid to rest due to the action of the joint committee on Monday," said Orlo Shroyer, director of Instruction for the Department for Elementary and Secondary Education.

But a couple of Republican senators are voicing objections to the do-nothing decision of the House-Senate committee.

Outspoken opponent of the standards, Sen. Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, sent a letter requesting another rules committee hearing to the chairman, Sen. Jerry Howard, D-Dexter. But Howard said the committee did not have time to meet again before today.

Monday's hearing had been requested by another Senate Republican critic of the standards - Sen. Dave Klarich, R-St. Louis County.

Klarich said he is trying to get the standards suspended because they are not consistent with the Outstanding Schools Act passed by the legislature in 1993, which mandated "academic performance standards."

Klarich said the standards adopted by the board are so vague that they cannot be measured by assessment tests, which invalidates them as standards.

"How can something be a standard if there's no way of measuring it?" Klarich said.

Shroyer said that while the actual standards may seem vague, the curriculum frameworks and assessments being developed by the Education Department will better demonstrate the specifics of the new system.

"To fulfill the performance requirements of the standards, students will have to have a strong base of knowledge," he said.

Now that the standards are in effect, any action by the legislature to suspend the standards can be vetoed by the governor.

Ehlmann and Klarich are charging that committee members were playing partisan politics when they refused to vote on or even discuss the standards at Monday's meeting.

"The committee failed to take appropriate action with a proposed rule which is in conflict with state law," Klarich said. "Jerry Howard and Jason Klumb (a House Democrat on the committee from Butler), who apparently don't care about following state law, are putting politics above the parents of Missouri."

Howard said the committee acted on the advice of its lawyer, Ron Leone, of Legislative Research.

"We were informed by our counsel that we did not have the power to suspend the rule," Howard said. Leone said he could not discuss his confidential report to the committee.

Klarich said Leone's recommendations also were partisan.

"Ron Leone's decision was no more than a political ploy designed to skirt the responsibility of the committee members," he said.

Opponents of the standards say they have two courses of action now that suspending the standards outright isn't a possibility - additional legislation and court action.

Ehlmann is sponsoring a bill, now before the Senate Education Committee, that would insert a stronger emphasis on basic skills in the Outstanding Schools Act. Ehlmann said there is much that can be done with such legislation once it is on the Senate floor.

"I will offer amendments to sections of the law relating to the standards to get rid of the more ridiculous aspects," Ehlmann said.

The two senators also suggest the courts might be another front in their battle to strike down the Show-Me standards.

"We will file a petition in Cole County court for a declaratory action that these standards are inconsistent with the law in both form and substance," he said.

Klarich said he did not know yet when the petition would be filed.