Charter School Offers Lessons

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The small, innovative, arts-oriented Shelby School in Tonto Village has just 55 students — but enrollment in the charter school jumped nearly 38 percent this year.

Now, granted — that’s only 15 additional students. But please note: Enrollment in the Payson Unified School District dropped by about 5 percent in the same year — a loss of nearly 100 students.

So what’s going on?

We suspect that some parents took the idea of “school choice” seriously after Payson closed Frontier and significantly increased elementary class sizes.

Turns out, the Shelby School averages about 10 students per class all the way from first grade to 10th. The principal reports that many of the new parents said class sizes in Payson prompted them to move their kids.

The Payson School Board two years ago elected to significantly increase elementary school class sizes across the board in the grip of a fiscal crisis. However, ample research shows that student scores rise in class sizes below about 18 — especially in the early grades. Interestingly, the research shows no consistent impact on student achievement with incremental increases in class size beyond 18 in the upper grades.

So how can Shelby School offer such small classes?

Most likely it has something to do with the great freedom from rules and regulations the state Legislature has granted charter schools. Although charters get public money, they don’t have to abide by many of the most burdensome restrictions on public schools.

For instance, charters can hire almost anyone they want to teach classes, which makes it easier to draw on the expertise in the community.

We haven’t seen all the figures yet — but charters probably pay their teachers and administrators less — and have far fewer specialized programs and treasured extras like sports, music programs and others.

Granted, the research on the success of the charter school experiment nationwide remains confusing. Some studies show charter school students on average do worse than public school students — others show charter students outperforming their peers. That probably reflects the enormous diversity of charter schools — with some operating like small, private schools in exclusive neighborhoods and others offering a place for kids having trouble in regular public schools.

But the contrasting enrollment trends for Payson schools and the Shelby School does offer some interesting lessons for the Legislature and the Payson School Board.

Dear Legislature: If you’re so excited about charter schools that you’ve freed them from red tape, paperwork and hoop jumping — how about doing the same for regular public schools. Instead, each year the Legislature adds new regulations — and cuts funding.

Dear Payson School Board (especially you newcomers): Next time you decide to ignore mounds of research and increase elementary school class sizes — just remember: You’ve got competition down the road.

They’re mad dog crazy

This is just crazy. Who the heck are those people? Oh. Yeah. That’s right. We elected them.

But were they all this foam-at-the-mouth nuts when we elected them. Well ... come to think of it.

So here we are, peering over the edge of the “fiscal cliff” once again — like the election never happened.

Both sides seem like frothing rabid dogs on the subject of raising the marginal tax rate on people making more than $250,000 from 36 percent to 39 percent.

The Republicans insist such an increase will wreck the economy.

That’s just mad dog craziness of the worst sort that doesn’t survive a moment’s reflection. We had top marginal tax rates much higher than that during a period of great prosperity. Didn’t make a whit of difference. Moreover, the tax code’s so rotten with exemptions and loopholes that hardly any rich people are actually paying the 36 percent rate.

On the other hand, the Democrats insist raising the marginal tax rate will balance the budget and solve all of Medicare’s problems.

That’s just mad dog craziness of the worst sort that doesn’t survive a moment’s reflection. The top 1 percent of taxpayers receive about 11 percent of the total income. So increase the marginal tax rate on that group by 3 percent and you won’t make a dent in the deficit. To really have an impact, you have to control the spiraling cost of Medicare, address the demographic trends in Social Security and quit spending as much on the military as almost all the other countries in the world combined.

But ever since the election, they’ve been lockjawed on the top marginal rate for the super rich.

Do these people think we’re stupid? What would make them think that? Oh. Yeah. We elected them.

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