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Who's going to break the news to them?

Who is going to tell the kids at School 45, the kids whose parents fled from Somalia, Sudan, Bosnia and other global hellholes, that the odds have turned against them again?

Who is going to tell Phung and Nyawuor and Timofei and Mustafa that the bilingual teacher who explains math and science won't be coming anymore?

It is not just the little refugees and new Americans at Buffalo's International School, where nearly half the kids are foreign-born. It is every kid in a district that -- more than any other in the state -- is Albany's foster child. Most of Buffalo's schoolkids are so poor the government buys them lunch.

Who will tell those kids that the foster parent has a problem? That as usual it was months late doing its household budget, but this time it really mattered. It really mattered because terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center. Going up in smoke was the extra $28 million that probably was coming to the city's schools, without which more than 400 teachers will be let go.

Nobody told them Monday. Not even Hillary Clinton.

The U.S. senator from New York came to School 45 for a music education program. Education is a big deal with Clinton, who's not your average freshman on the Hill. She's a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She has a big office and schmoozes with the big guns from both parties.

The hope is Washington, where Clinton works, will send $34 billion to help the rest of the state. Manhattan got $20 billion, the airlines got their billions. The $34 billion would ease the ripples -- tidal waves, actually -- from this disaster. It would make sure that hurting schoolkids in Buffalo don't feel more pain.

Clinton sat down Monday at City Hall with the mayor, school superintendent and teachers union head to talk about the money. Afterwards, the education senator said: Don't hold your breath.

She did not say she will get the money to make the Buffalo schools whole. She did not say we've got four weeks before more than 400 teachers get pink slips, that's plenty of time to work my freshman magic.

No. She uttered phrases like "uphill battle" and "tough fight." While she said the state and Buffalo deserved extra money, she made it clear: "Asking for the money does not mean we'll get the money." Someone asked if this was a test for her. "No," she replied. "I see this as a test for our country."

That's not good enough.

In fairness, maybe she thought the question was broader than Buffalo schools. Because it is a test for her. Whether these kids get what they need, whether there is more money coming out of Washington to heal our wounds, is a huge test for her. For her, for her fellow senator, Chuck Schumer, for John LaFalce and Jack Quinn and the rest of our people in Congress.

Yes, money is going into buckets we never imagined two months ago -- homeland defense and bombs to drop on Afghanistan and anthrax antibiotics. But the reason we sent her and Schumer and the rest of them to Washington is to take care of us. To get our share. And our share, because we're connected by umbilical cord to Albany, is bigger than anyplace else.

The so-called good news that came out of the City Hall meeting was all long-range stuff: Getting Washington to pay for more school programs. Shifting grant money.

But it's not what Clinton and the rest of them will do in the next four years. It's what they'll will do in the next four weeks: We've got a crisis. What are you going to do about it?

Granted, at least Clinton came and heard it firsthand. She knows what the deal is. It's no charade this time. More than 400 teachers will be gone, along with 60 teacher's aides and extra help. Here's your ripple: More kids won't learn to read and write. More middle-class parents will put their kids in private school or flee the city. More property values will fall. The city's budget hole will grow deeper.

The terrorists who flew jets into the World Trade Center hit the bulls-eye, in more ways than they -- or we -- could have known.

Making it whole is the challenge. For all of them. For Clinton.


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