Published Online: April 9, 1997

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Tangle in Texas

Members of the Texas board of education have spent a lot of time lately exchanging allegations about religious extremism and claims of federal meddling in local schools.

And that has some observers there wondering how the board is going to meet its summer deadline for adopting K-12 standards, called Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

Six board members backed by conservative religious groups say the draft standards are not only weak, but also have been influenced by national models and represent an unwanted federal intrusion. They aren't about to be rushed into backing something they oppose.

"We've put our feet down, and we have the truth and the people on our side," said Donna Ballard, a second-year Republican member of the elected board.

Board President Jack Christie, also a Republican, is on the other side. He defends the state's decision to seek guidance on its standards from the Washington-based National Center on Education and the Economy, a nonprofit group devoted to improving schools and training.

"There's no evil person doing this," he said. "Intelligent people are developing these standards."

But he's having a harder time these days being diplomatic with the fractious, 15-member panel of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. "We have big issues on our table, and we don't have time for conspiracy theories of the federal government taking over our schools," Mr. Christie said, referring to some of the claims made by Ms. Ballard and her supporters.

News organizations have devoted extensive coverage to a videotape of Ms. Ballard speaking at a Fort Worth church in February. On it, a state official from the Christian Coalition, a conservative group, asks viewers to protest the standards to Gov. George W. Bush. The office of the GOP governor tallied nearly 3,000 calls in response to the tape.

Ms. Ballard said last week that she is not promoting a religious agenda. "I think it has only muddied the waters so that we can't have healthy debate," she said of such allegations.

Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a Democrat, said recently the state board is not focusing on children. He told reporters he wants to "kick this bunch out and start over again."

Ms. Ballard responded sharply: "To say that we are too conservative because we don't kneel at his liberal doorstep is exactly why voters all over Texas elected us to the board."

--ROBERT C. JOHNSTON

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