The Campaign for Fiscal Equity scored an important victory last week when a state appellate court directed Gov. George Pataki and the state Legislature to provide New York City schools with billions of dollars more in this year’s budget.

The decision was a bit unexpected because the appeals court has traditionally supported the governor, who has steadily fought the CFE lawsuit, first filed in 1993. But the opinion reiterates the findings in a series of rulings in the case: the state’s formula for distributing education funding is unconstitutional because it shortchanges New York City school children, and it must change. In fact, the appellate court said it is "undisputed" that the state has failed to appropriate the right amount of funding.

Unfortunately, it seems likely that Pataki, a lame duck governor, will continue to fight the CFE ruling until he leaves office. And state legislators and their leaders will continue to find reasons to put off doing the right thing and providing New York City school children with the appropriate share of funding for their education.

The courts have found that New York City is shortchanged by $5.6 billion in operating aid and $9.2 billion in construction aid. State Judge Leland DeGrasse and a panel of education experts recommended a plan to implement the correct funding incrementally over several years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has now started to push the state on this issue as well, though Bloomberg is focusing on funding for construction.

The time for excuses and delays is long over. New York City needs the money for teachers, instruction and programs, as well as for construction and renovation of schools to accommodate the city’s 1.1 million public school children.

New York City’s children deserve a sound, basic education, and it’s time Pataki and the state Legislature did their part to provide it.