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State Journal: To some a shocking switch

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A request by the president of the New Hampshire Senate to switch from being a defendant to a supporter of a school-finance lawsuit has won him praise from educators but some sniping from his colleagues.

Sen. Ralph D. Hough recently asked the state attorney general if he could be dropped as one of the defendants in the lawsuit, on the grounds that he agrees with the argument of a group of 35 low-wealth districts that contend that the state is failing to provide adequate and equitable funding for public schools.

Although a superior court last year upheld the existing funding method, the group is currently appealing the decision to the state supreme court.

"I could not in conscience ... defend the state's inaction'' Mr. Hough said in an interview this month. "As a nonlawyer but a highly visible political figure, I am adamant in my request that the supreme court listen to the evidence.''

Several education leaders voiced praise for Mr. Hough. "We were really pleased that Senator Hough took that position,'' said Barbara H. Krysiak, the superintendent of the Claremont schools, one of the plaintiffs.

"We applaud him for his courage, his vision, and his good sense,'' remarked Richard Goodman, the executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association.

"I'm personally delighted because I've been working for this goal for years,'' Mr. Goodman added. "We're still so far behind other states in state support of education, it's a joke.''

New Hampshire's school-finance system is exceptional in that virtually all the money comes from local property taxes. Without an income or sales tax, the state provides just 7 percent of district budgets.

But Mr. Hough's attempted switch put him at odds with many of his fellow Republicans, who control the legislature and the governorship.

Former Gov. Judd Gregg in particular was bitterly critical of the finance challenge, and the current Governor, Steve Merrill, also opposes the suit.

Mr. Hough's move also ruffled feathers among some G.O.P. lawmakers.

"As a member of the leadership council, I had no clue this was coming,'' said Sen. David P. Currier. "It came as kind of a shock to us.''

"I don't have a problem with him feeling that way,'' Mr. Currier added. "I tend to agree with him. But as Senate president, he represents the institution, and barring a vote of the Senate, I would think that that's not his prerogative to be able to do that.''--M.S.

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