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School funding up to lawmakers As budget deadline looms, will governor and Legislature finally ease the inequity?

Neither side involved in a midlevel state appeals court decision that orders pouring more money into New York City schools can claim victory, when so many students remain in dire need of a basic, sound education.

The Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, in a 3-2 decision, gave the Legislature until April 1 to start providing New York City schools an additional $4.7 billion and up to $5.63 billion in operating aid over the next four years, plus $9.1 billion in capital funding over the next five years. Currently, the state spends about $16 billion a year on school aid.

This decision means little unless a broken system is fixed and the money is distributed, wisely. Unless and until that happens, no amount of money will make much difference.

Meanwhile, both parties involved in the lawsuit -- the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the state -- are claiming victory. Spin doctors in Albany decided the decision gives the Legislature and Gov. George E. Pataki discretion to decide how much to spend on education. The CFE declared victory too, claiming the decision adds pressure to budget negotiations in Albany.

While words continue to get minced, students are left hanging in the balance. Few would bet against another appeal until the process is spent, or at least until this governor leaves office.

Delay only adds fuel to critics' fire, who convincingly argue that the state has had plenty of time to deal with the long-standing issue of underfunding New York City's schools, a ruling that by extension would benefit other school districts.

Without an influx of additional funding, the Legislature and the governor should devise a plan to fix a broken system.

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