I  'm trying to keep an open mind about all this charter school stuff.

But it's not always easy.

The No. 1 priority with me is that students be educated as well as taxpayers can reasonably afford. And that goes for every student who truly wants an education and is putting in sufficient effort to make that happen.

I'm not asking or expecting 100 percent of students to meet No Child Left Behind standards or anything close to that because, frankly, it's just not doable. Aspire to that standard if it makes you feel better, but be accepting of something less than that for at least a third of the students in school today.

That's the reality of the situation.

Now having said that, I fully expect public school districts and the educators who work in them to take their jobs seriously. Many do. Some don't. Too many are coasting.

I expect them to teach, not just go through the motions. As a taxpayer, I expect to see student progress from one year to the next.

And when students graduate from high school each year, I expect at least 70 percent of the graduating class to read, write and do math at an 11th grade level. Toss in some science, history, social studies and geography for good measure. And in this day and age, some computer/keyboarding skills.

That's not expecting too much is it?

When students graduate from high school, they should not have to take remedial classes in college before advancing to the freshman-level curriculum.


But that's too often not the case today.

And that's where charter schools enter the picture.

Hey, I'm all for competition, even in education. If we're not going to properly educate our children with the immense amount of tax dollars dedicated to the public education process, then I don't mind someone offering a better program. If that's a charter school, then so be it.

I don't even mind tax dollars going to charter school programs, as long as students are going to benefit from a better education.

But it's got to be better. Significantly better.

Because it's not good enough for charter schools to be just as good as public schools. It's not good enough if the education they're providing is a little below that of public schools. The only acceptable thing is for charter schools to be measurably better than public schools.

And not just a little better, but a lot better.

Because charters have all the advantages in the sense they don't have to educate the nitwits in public schools who really aren't interested in being educated. They're getting the motivated students. They're getting students with parents who see a value in education. They're getting students whose parents are involved in the education process. They're getting students whose parents demand performance.

And the rest get left behind in public schools, which are mandated to attempt to educate anything with a pulse. Except that they now have less money to work with, fewer teachers and resources.

So it's OK with me if charter schools exist, but they've got to compete at a very high level. It's not good enough to be just average, because we've already got average in public schools.

The only reason for charter schools to exist is to be above average. Way above average.

And there's got to be a legitimate academic purpose for every charter school -- something students can't or aren't getting in public school. Science, for example. Math. Writing. Language. A range of academic subjects.

But not physical fitness. We have a group -- the Championship Academy of Distinction -- that wants to start a program for students who care about being mentally healthy and physically fit.

For me, that's not good enough. And please don't suggest it's because I don't appreciate sports. In school, recess and gym were always my favorite classes. I played four sports in high school. I played competitive baseball until well into my 40s. I value athletics -- maybe more than I should.

But not as a singular pursuit at the elementary, junior high and high school levels.

Championship Academy wants to bring health and fitness themes to students from kindergarten through the 8th grades. Too many students are apathetic about fitness and are overweight, said Cynthia Dotson, the founder of the Championship program.

True, but I'm thinking that should be a concern and financial burden for parents, not taxpayer-paid education.

There are only so many tax dollars to go around, and what there are should be directed to academic subjects, not recreation, not gym classes and not competitive sports.

I'm not interested in my tax dollars being used to support dodgeball, kickball, health and science-of-eating classes all day long, with a smattering of academic classes thrown into the mix.

If parents want that for their children, they can pay for it out of their own pockets. And I seriously doubt many parents would do that.

We can and must do better than that with our public education dollars.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.