IT'S NOT every day that representatives of District children enrolled in regular public schools, charter schools or private schools for special education can come together on one issue. They credit the mayor, the D.C. Council, the city's chief financial officer and the D.C. financial control board with pulling the children's advocates together. The unifying issue: a city-created formula reducing per student funding and reducing it unequally.

Groups such as the D.C. Congress of PTAs, Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, the D.C. Coalition of Public Charter Schools and the Family and Friends of Special Children contend that the mayor and the council are funding all schools below levels required by the D.C. School Reform Act of 1995, the Uniform Per Student Funding Act of 1998 and other court decrees and federal statutes. The reduced funding, they say, results from earlier decisions by the mayor and council to carry out the prescribed student funding formula with money taken from the regular schools for special education tuition and transportation. The groups claim the problem was compounded when the mayor and the council agreed to set aside $30 million out of the remaining school funds for expected increases in charter school enrollments.

The upshot? "There is not enough money to fund both [regular schools] and public charter schools fully on a per pupil formula basis, while paying mandated costs of special education tuition and transportation," the groups wrote on Dec. 6 to city officials.

The whole idea of a per pupil formula for school funding was to achieve equity among students enrolled in regular and charter schools. A predictable school funding formula is also a planning tool that every school superintendent needs. Months into the school year, however, the superintendent still does not know the size of her budget.

This is a school governance issue of the first order. The council and the mayor, having rightly criticized the elected school board's treatment of the school system, now have a chance to show what they can do. Properly funding public education is a good place to start.