IT'S A SHAME the way children in D.C. public schools are being treated. They are pawns in a system that is underfunded, overgoverned and subject to the whims and pressures of superintendent wannabes from Chevy Chase to Capitol Hill.

Here it is more than three months into the school year, and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman still does not know exactly how much money her schools will receive in the current year. That's partially because city fiscal officials must decide the amount of funds to carve out of D.C. appropriations for charter schools. Those fledgling schools are funded each year based on the number of pupils currently enrolled, while regular public schools are funded on the previous year's enrollment.

The funding problem will be compounded, however, if the mayor, council and financial control board go through with plans to impose a per-pupil funding level on regular public school students that is less than the funding level for charter school students. That formula would transfer $30 million of the regular schools' budget to charter schools.

Funding regular schools at these reduced levels would eliminate money needed to perform several services "mandated by federal law and several court decrees," says the schools' financial officer, Don Rickford. City leaders should heed his warning. Underfunding the public schools will only hurt the pupils and accelerate the exodus from the regular school system. Is that what the mayor and the council want?

The superintendent is already stretched thin responding to a host of demanding overseers, including an elected school board, appointed trustees, the financial control board, the mayor, the D.C. Council (including Ward 3's Kathy Patterson, who is openly hostile toward Mrs. Ackerman), and four committees of Congress. Add the reality of having no budget in the fourth month of the school year and the third month of the fiscal year, and the prospect of drastic underfunding, and it's easy to see why public education in the District is clouded with uncertainty. D.C. public school students deserve better.