Back to the courthouse. Attorneys for more than half of the 1,029 school districts in the state return to court today, Jan. 21 . They'll argue that, despite the $3.9 billion the Texas Legislature restored to public education funding last year, the system remains inequitable and must be fixed — as state District Judge John Dietz ruled a year ago. "The state of Texas cannot attempt to dumb down our constitution with their ill-conceived educational policies and continue to avoid providing the educational opportunities Texas children need to succeed," said David Hinojosa , the lead school finance attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund . The San Antonio -based organization represents some of the poorest districts in the state, as well as a group of low-income parents, including two from Amarillo . "We are saddened, though confident, that the next three weeks of testimony will show that Texas's school finance system remains unfair and unconstitutional," Hinojosa said. Call it round two in the year-long legal battle over school funding. Although in his Feb. 2 ruling Dietz found the Legislature's school funding mechanism unconstitutional, in mid-June he ordered a new trial because the lawmakers had restored $3.9 billion of the $5.4 billion they slashed in the 2011 session — when they tackled a $27 billion shortfall. Whether Dietz rules in favor of the school districts again remains to be seen, some legislators and school funding watchers say. But there's a consensus that no matter how the judge rules, it won't be necessary for Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session on school funding, something widely believed last year while the Legislature was in session. "I don't think you're going to see a special session," said Rep. John Smithee , R- Amarillo . "It's gonna have to wait until the next regular session, for sure." Like other legislators, Smithee believes the losing side will appeal the ruling and the case will end up in the Texas Supreme Court next year — when the 84th Legislature is in session. Such possibility helps both sides in the legal battle because the lawmakers will have the time to address the high court's order or recommendations, said Smithee, a veteran of half-dozen school funding lawsuits filed during the 29 years he has served in the Texas House of Representatives . Regular session last 140 days while special sessions, which only the governor can call, cannot last more than 30. Like other lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — Smithee said it'll be better if the courts tell the Legislature how to fix the school funding inequities. "I am actually in favor of change in the judicial system because I don't think we're going to get sufficient change in the political system," Smithee said in reference to the contentious school funding fights in the Legislature ." "I really hope that they close the gap," said Steve Massengale , president of the Lubbock Independent School District Board of Trustees. "There is still funding disparity in the system." Massengale and other school board presidents have long complained that when it comes to school funding, their districts are way below the state average. Last year, for example, Lubbock ISD was getting about $5,500 a year per student, $1,000 below the state average of $6,500 . Moreover, Lubbock ISD and many districts in West Texas were in the bottom 15 percent in state funding. "It is a very unfair funding system," Massengale said. "It needs to be fixed." Massengale faces Rep. Charles Perry , R- Lubbock , in the March Republican primary for the Lubbock -based House District 83 seat.
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