Siloam Springs, Ark (December 8, 2003) - (Little Rock-AP) -- It was billed as a hands-on civics lesson. But a protest against school consolidation at the state Capitol yesterday is being described by critics as irresponsible since students from rural districts were given the day off from school to attend the event. Hundreds of children, teachers and school patrons gathered on the steps and front lawn of the Capitol to protest Governor Huckabee's plan to consolidate high schools in smaller districts. The governor hopes to use the savings to pay for court-ordered improvements to education. So many showed up at the anti-school consolidation rally that guards had to turn children away at the Capitol doors as legislators prepared for a special session on education reform. Huckabee was among critics, saying tax dollars would have been better spent educating the students instead of taking them to Little Rock. The governor also says children should not be used in a political debate.