BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker said he wants to improve education in the state's lower performing districts by allowing more local flexibility and encouraging the state takeover of struggling schools when needed.
Baker said besides bumping up spending on local school districts by more than $90 million, he wants to create so-called "empowerment zones."
"These zones create more flexibility in schools and allow educators to make the changes necessary to provide a better learning environment for our kids," Baker said Tuesday during his annual state of the state address on Beacon Hill.
He noted that the state takeover of the schools in struggling districts like Lawrence, Southbridge and Holyoke has demonstrated that the intervention "can offer significant benefits to students, parents and teachers in schools that need our support."
WBZ-TV's Jon Keller reports
The Republican governor made a number of other proposals in the televised speech.
Baker said Massachusetts is already one of the three most important players in cybersecurity in the world.
But he said the industry is just taking off and hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent over the next decade to protect information and assets.
Baker said Massachusetts' organizations should play a major role in driving these decisions.
"Over the next ten months we'll bring together the best minds locally and globally to develop a blueprint for success here in Massachusetts," the governor said.
BRIDGEWATER STATE HOSPITAL
Baker said that for decades mental health advocates have urged the state to redesign the way it serves those committed to Bridgewater State Hospital. Baker said he'll propose a number of steps to change what he called "this longstanding and unacceptable situation."
He said the state will move corrections officers out of the hospital and deploy them outside the facility to provide security. He also said the size and scale of clinical programs offered inside the hospital will be expanded.
"This reform will not come cheap, as spending on clinical services will increase by $37 million," Baker said, adding "It's the right thing to do and we ask the Legislature to support it."
Baker, who noted that he turned 60 in November, said he also wants to take action to help the state's older citizens.
"There are thousands of citizens in Massachusetts who are still very much in the game in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s — and there'll be more as our population continues to age," Baker said.
The governor said he'll sign an executive order in the coming weeks to establish a "Council on Older Adults" to focus on policies and programs that make it possible for more older adults and seniors "to live vibrant, purposeful lives."
The governor also said he wants to help returning veterans find work.
Baker said he'll propose a $4,000 tax credit for small businesses that hire or retain an unemployed veteran.
He made a series of other recommendations including proposing $2 million to expand law enforcement's efforts to arrest and convict drug traffickers, increasing funding to support treatment for men committed due to an addiction and proposing more than $130 million in local aid to cities and towns.
Baker made no direct reference to President Donald Trump in the speech, but did talk about what he described as the success of bipartisanship in Massachusetts.
"The changes in Washington don't change this powerful obligation. Our jobs remain the same," Baker said. "That is to represent Massachusetts to Washington and not Washington to Massachusetts."
WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Lana Jones reports
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