Georgians either don't care or they're too thick to understand what has happened. In seven years, Georgia has gone from a symbol of the New South to the nose-dive state. We can't get anything right.
And it's Sonny Perdue's fault. The buck for our failed state government on every front from neglected transportation to floundering public schools belongs squarely on the governor's desk.
Of course, State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox must share some blame. She demurely agreed with everything Perdue prescribed.
I could have sworn Perdue said he intended to upgrade the schools when he became governor. He also warned his fellow Republicans to "avoid using gimmicks" to gloss over the schools' dismal shortcomings.
As fast as he could move after the election, he smashed to smithereens Gov. Roy Barnes' nationally acclaimed education-reform package. The teachers' unions cheered. They didn't need any regulation. That's why they voted en masse for Perdue instead of Barnes.
Of course, things might have been even better if they could have brought back former Schools Superintendent Linda Schrenko, but she's in prison for stealing millions from the schools. You ought to read Linda's old campaign promises sometime. She sounds exactly like Sonny in describing her rescue of public education.
As soon as he was sworn in, Perdue figured out how to inspire a standing, cheering ovation from Georgia's teaching elite. He parceled out gift cards to teachers to buy goodies for their classrooms. (If the state doesn't quit handing out cash cards to employees, we're all going broke.) Then Perdue presented dazzling trophies for SAT scores, the kind of loving cups awarded at carnivals for throwing rings over milk bottles.
To make teachers feel better about themselves, Perdue abolished the "Office of Education Accountability," and ironically, turned the agency into the "Governor's Office of Student Achievement."
Just to cap off his new Education-by-Hula-Hoop Plan, Perdue announced he was hiring graduation coaches all over Georgia to help students - uh, well - graduate. Dumb us! We thought that was the teachers' job. Well, we were wrong. Coaches were needed.
Georgia has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country. Wait, let's not sell ourselves short: Georgia actually has among the lowest graduation rates in the industrialized world.
Even as Perdue distributed gimmicks and slapped himself on the back for spectacular progress in education, the governor stripped more than a billion dollars from the schools to shore up other parts of his budget, and build high-priority boat docks for bass tournaments.
Then boiiing!!! The cat leaped from the bag just as the final bell of the school year was about to ring.
Bulletin: Georgia schools have established a new record for failure. We didn't think it possible, but results came in from the latest Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, the exam that measures how our kids are doing compared to everybody else's kids.
Cox announced that the sixth and seventh grade social studies portion of the Georgia CRCT would have to be deleted from the record. "The scores are implausibly low, which raised serious questions," she said in wide-eyed astonishment.
Cox was right, though; the revelation does raise serious questions. Primary among them: Why doesn't the superintendent take the honorable course and resign? Why doesn't she also invite Perdue to follow her over the side after he finishes his latest nationwide swing to campaign for the GOP presidential ticket?
In addition to botching social studies, only 60 percent of our eighth-grade students passed the math part of the CRCT. When this class was back in third grade, nearly 85 percent passed the math test for their grade level. What happened?
When the starting gun sounds for the next governor's campaign, the candidates from both parties ought to make this campaign promise: "We will not lie. We will tell you what is wrong with our schools. We will tell you whether those problems can be solved. If they can't, so be it. But we will tell you. Those who are interested in quality education can make other arrangements for their children, and we'll do what we can to help the rest of the kids."
I remember long ago when pre-World War II Gov. E.D. Rivers angered much of the Georgia electorate by requiring children of certain ages to attend school. The folks mad at Rivers needed the kids for farming and working in the mills, not wasting time reading and writing and doing arithmetic in deteriorating schoolhouses.
Sounds like the Perdue era, doesn't it? Except for one thing: In Rivers' time, more schoolkids around the state were actually reading and writing and doing arithmetic.
Bill Shipp's column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesville
times.com. First published May 28, 2008.