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Republicans attempt to revisit standards

March 01, 1996
By: Joseph Morton
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Democrats in Missouri's legislature have blocked another GOP effort to subject the Education Department's Show-Me standards to legislative review.

Rep. Charles Shields, R-St. Joseph, is sponsoring one of several bills being considered in the House that require some form of legislative approval for the Show-Me standards.

Shields made an attempt to pass the bill out of a House education committee during an executive session on Thursday - a meeting several of the committee's Democratic members were unable to attend.

Shields' move took many of the committee members by surprise.

"This was, as they say, sprung on us," said Rep. Steve Stoll, D-Festus, who acted as chairman in the absence of Rep. Annette Morgan, D-Kansas City.

While Democrats on the committee scrambled to find a way to block the bill, Shields and other Republicans continued increasingly insistent demands that a vote be taken on the bill. The Democrats tried everything from motions to adjourn to walking out and preventing a quorum.

Fortunately for their side, they were able to intercept House Speaker Pro Tem Fletcher Daniels, D-Kansas City, as he arrived for the day.

Daniels has remained a member of the committee, although he has not attended many meetings since his election as Speaker Pro Tem.

With his sudden appearance at Thursday's meeting, however, the GOP motion on the bill was defeated by a 10-10 tie vote. After that, Stoll adjourned the meeting and gave a sigh of relief.

While Democrats managed to prevail on Thursday, the close call represents the persistence of Republican legislators' fight to gain more control of the 75 Show-Me standards.

The standards, mandated by the 1993 Outstanding Schools Act and adopted by the state Board of Education in January, have come under fire from Republicans as vague and overly concerned with what they criticize as "warm, fuzzy" concepts.

Because the Show-Me standards were drafted by the Education Department and never debated by the whole legislature, Republicans also maintain the public has not had enough input on the standards.

Shields' bill would require the Education Department to submit its educational standards to the legislature every two years. The House and Senate would have to approve the standards within 30 days of their submission, but would not be able to change them.

Some supporters of the House legislation said they don't necessarily oppose the standards. Rather, they say, they're trying to address public perception that the standards don't have legislative approval.

"The sad thing is I think these standards are strong enough to stand the test of open, rational debate," said Emmy McClelland, R-St. Louis County. "I think we have good standards."

Another Republican bill in the House, sponsored by Rep. Doyle Childers, R-Reeds Spring, would require approval of the department's curriculum frameworks and assessments, which are currently being developed.

Childers said he likes the standards, but wants to make sure their supporting guidelines are up to par.

"The standards are general, but they have to be general," Childers said. "The bottom line is the assessments; that's what drives the whole system."

But Shields said legislators should have a chance to weigh in on whether to keep the standards or draft new ones.

"It concerns me that everyone is so reluctant to even vote on the standards," Shields said. "The people are very concerned about this."

After Thursday's vote, Shields said he does not think any of the House bills will make it out of committee. However, he said he is going to continue pushing the legislation.

"I don't intend to let this issue die," Shields said.