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For Immediate Release

Date: 02/24/11

Rep. Pete Johnson says school funding process needs change

AUGUSTA - State Rep. Pete Johnson reports heavy activity on the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, with school funding at the center of the agenda.

This session marks his second term on the committee, putting him in position to shape legislation on a range of issues, from school finance and special education to the community college and University of Maine systems.

Rep. Johnson (R-Greenville) a retired military officer, said he is pleased to be back on the committee. "I believe the education of our children is one of the most critical functions of state government," he said. "But the current process for consolidation and providing aid to local school districts must be changed. Districts that have not consolidated for valid reasons should not be subject to penalties; and the state funding system must be changed to allocate a fair share to students in rural and economically depressed areas of our state."

Rep. Johnson said state aid to schools is expected to again fall short of the 55 percent level established by referendum in 2004. "The state doesn't have the money to fund schools at 55 percent," he said. "But Governor LePage's budget proposal increases school funding by $63 million beyond what was expected to keep us at least at the 45 percent level."

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee's jurisdiction includes the Department of Education; school finance, governance and administration; school budgets; special education and child development services; and school choice and homeschooling.

The panel also oversees the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System. Its cultural affairs jurisdiction includes the Maine Arts Commission, the Maine State Library, the Maine State Museum and the Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation.

The Maine Legislature has 16 joint standing committees, each composed of 13 members - three senators and 10 members of the House. Every committee has jurisdiction over clearly defined parts of state government.

Rep. Johnson said the Education Committee will deal with an estimated 200 bills this session. One of them, he said, would extend the school year from 180 days to 185 days. "We all want better education," he said, "but this would be an unfunded mandate and the cost would have to be covered by the towns. Employers who hire high school students for summer jobs also don't want the schools opening before Labor Day. We'll have to see how this plays out.

"I also want to keep a close eye on funding for higher education, to make it more affordable," he said. "If we can keep the costs down, more students across the state could earn degrees, either associate's degrees or bachelor's. A well-educated workforce is one of the strongest components of a health economy."

Rep. Johnson holds an M.B.A. and a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Maine. His years of training include the U.S. Army War College and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Rep. Johnson achieved the rank of colonel in military intelligence and was heavily decorated for action in Vietnam, receiving the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.

His highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal, was awarded for developing and implementing a plan to restructure Army Intelligence operational forces after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact to refocus on the Middle East.

In the private sector, Rep. Johnson has worked for Argon Engineering and has been a program manager at Lockheed-Martin, a business development manager for Raytheon Corp., and a program manager for Engineering Research Associates.

Rep. Johnson's House district encompasses the towns of Abbot, Beaver Cove, Bowerbank, Brownville, Greenville, Guilford, Monson, Parkman, Sebec, Shirley, Willimantic and the Plantation of Kingsbury. The district also includes the unorganized territories of Blanchard Townships, Northeast Piscataquis (including Barnard, and Elliotsville Townships) and Northwest Piscataquis. His district includes the town of Cambridge in Somerset County, as well. ###

Jay Finegan
Maine House Republicans
Tel: (207) 287-1445