Baker asks surplus funds be directed to securing schools
BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker asked lawmakers Friday to direct a portion of the state’s budget surplus toward making public schools safer for students and teachers.
“This is something we have been discussing with our colleagues at the local level for the past several months, especially after Parkland,” said Baker, referring to the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida high school.
The plan calls for $72 million to bolster security and take steps to identify and help troubled students before any threats might arise.
The largest chunk of the state money, $40 million, would be steered to school districts to allow for the hiring of more social workers and mental health professionals. Baker said the most pressing request of school superintendents was providing students “access to people they could talk to and who were trained to deal with whatever their particular issues or circumstances might be.”
The proposal also calls for $20 million in grants to school districts for enhancing the physical security of school buildings. The grants could be used for things such as upgrades to communication and alarm systems during emergencies, and for the creation of single point-of-entry systems in buildings to prevent unauthorized entries.
Increased training for school resource officers, creation of a tip line for the reporting of potential risks and a statewide school safety website, are among other goals in the plan.
Baker, a Republican, noted Massachusetts has some of the nation’s most stringent gun laws and that he recently signed a “red flag” bill approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature, which creates a process for temporarily removing firearms from individuals deemed an immediate threat to themselves or others.
The administration has estimated the budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended June 30 will exceed $1 billion because of tax revenues that exceeded projections.
In addition to the school safety program, Baker asked lawmakers to use the surplus on a variety of other educational programs and provide additional funds to cities and towns for road and bridge repairs.
About half of the total surplus would be directed to the state’s reserves — commonly known as the “rainy day fund.”
The Legislature, which has yet to agree on a permanent state budget for the current fiscal year, is scheduled to end its two-year session on July 31.