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Current administration works to erase previous governor's impact
Jones on Georgia



As thrilled as Georgia Republicans were to have finally captured the governor's office after being shut out for 130 years, they haven't been so enthusiastic about preserving the policies of the man who broke the drought.

The latest vestige of Sonny Perdue's term as governor up for erasure is a key plank in his 2006 re-election regarding education funding. It was called the 65 Percent Solution because it required local school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their budget on classroom instruction.

At the time Perdue borrowed the idea from Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne, the average Peach State district allocated 63.3 percent to the classroom.

Conservatives liked the idea because it was a way for them to support increased classroom spending while not boosting taxes. It seemed the only detractors would be administrators who would be forced to defend bureaucratic overhead.

It was one of the few specific proposals Perdue campaigned on, and when he won handily, the General Assembly passed it into law.

A panel of lawmakers and educators voted unanimously Aug. 25 to abolish the spending minimum. Even the lawmakers who had originally voted for Perdue's 65 Percent Solution wound up supporting its repeal.

Of Georgia's 180 school systems, only 56 met the requirement, while just 14 percent earned exemption because of superior student performance. The rest of the districts enjoyed annual waivers from the State Board of Education.

The panel is a commission recommending revisions to the state's formula for funding public education. State Superintendent of Schools John Barge chaired the subcommittee whose repeal recommendation won approval by the whole commission.

"That sounds very attractive and positive," he said of the spending floor. But experience has shown it isn't effective.

"There are just as many systems doing well without meeting the requirements as there are meeting it," he said.

Barge described repeal of the 65 percent requirement as "low-hanging fruit" that could be resolved simply, at least compared to the other recommendations made at the same meeting for increase funding for textbooks and computers.

The school-funding commission has come up with other recommendations, including restoring Perdue's cuts to nursing funding.

Ironically, Perdue appointed his own school-funding task force when he was in office, but after three years of work, it produced no recommendations.

There are other reminders, as well, that someone new is in the governor's office. For instance, Perdue vetoed legislation shifting to zero-based budgeting because it would be too costly and time-consuming. His successor, Nathan Deal, has voluntarily ordered it for executive agencies.

The mere threat of Perdue's veto kept legislation in committee to ultimately allow the sale of packaged alcohol on Sunday afternoons. Deal let it be known he would sign it, and he did when it passed.

It's not just the General Assembly unraveling Perdue's legacy. Voters are very likely to undo part of it next year when they reject a 1-percent sales tax for transportation he championed.

The University System of Georgia's Board of Regents got in on the act, too, when they quietly let Perdue's handpicked chancellor, Erroll Davis, know they were ready to replace him. Davis announced his retirement a month before Deal's election.

A panel of economists and business executives called for repeal of Perdue's income-tax break for retirees. While that repeal hasn't come up for a vote in the General Assembly because of wrangling over other provisions in the same tax-reform bill, the recommendation isn't dead, according to House and Senate leaders.

Even Perdue reversed one of the most acclaimed of his initiatives, the graduation coaches. As the effects of the recession squeezed the state budget, he was forced to cut the coaches that many educators and outside experts had credited with dramatically lowering the dropout rate.

Obviously, many of the Perdue's actions will persist. His two appointments to the Supreme Court remain on the bench, although that court did rule unconstitutional his law to divert some appropriations from local school districts to charter schools operating there.

Governors come and go. Each new election, voters give the new administration a mandate for change, and so some policy course corrections are inevitable.

Perdue will naturally take pride in much of what he accomplished in office-- including erasing some of his own predecessor's programs. But we now know that Republicans aren't immune from inconstancy, and one day the current crop of office holders will be gone as their successors slowly wipe away part of what they are trying so desperately now to do.

Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News Service and has been covering state politics since 1998. He can be reached at walter.jones@morris.com, (404) 589-8424 or on Twitter @MorrisNews.



Web posted on Thursday, September 08, 2011













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