BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday unveiled a school investment plan he says will expand access to education for students from birth through high school.
Patrick says the plan, which totals $550 million in its first year and increases to nearly $1 billion annually over the next four years, will help ensure "a high-knowledge, well-skilled workforce."
The proposal comes amid increasing talk on Beacon Hill for higher taxes to pay for a range of transportation, education and infrastructure needs.
Speaking to reporters at a Boston school Tuesday, Patrick said the state has to "stop being afraid of that conversation" about taxes.
His proposal would provide universal access to early education from birth through age 5, fully fund K-12 education and allow for extended school days in high-need schools. The plan would also make college more affordable and let community colleges expand efforts to provide students with critical skills training.
"If we are going to accelerate our growth and create opportunity, we must invest," Patrick said. "After 20 years of good work and experience at reforming education, we know what works."
Patrick will include the plan in the state budget proposal he submits to lawmakers next week.
Patrick said part of his goal is to address a persistent achievement gap that is leaving behind students from lower income families, students still learning English, students with disabilities and many minorities.
Only 38 percent of black third-graders and 36 percent of Hispanic third-graders are proficient in reading and writing.
That gap, Patrick says, threatens Massachusetts' ability to compete with other states and in an increasingly global marketplace.
Patrick is proposing a series of changes, including providing what he describes as "universal access to high-quality early education for all infants, toddlers and preschoolers."
The governor would also provide extra training for teachers, offer educational programs for parents and dedicate new funding to help school districts offer preschool for 4-year-olds.
Education Secretary Matt Malone called the proposal a "game changer," adding that more than 30,000 children can't get into seats for existing early education programs.
"We know that the gaps start early," he said.
Patrick also said more needs to be done to help graduating high school seniors. Most of the 146,500 jobs available in the state now require 2-year degrees or specialized certificates, he said.
Patrick is proposing $274 million to make college more affordable, including extra financial assistance for students showing the greatest need.
Patrick's proposal comes a day before he's scheduled to deliver his State of the State address and a day after officials proposed a range of options, including new taxes and fees, to raise about $1 billion annually to maintain and modernize the state's roads, bridges and public transit systems.
Among the proposals was an increase in the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 5.66 percent, which would generate about $1 billion annually. Other proposals would increase sales and gas taxes.
Also Tuesday, a coalition of unions, service groups and municipal officials called for higher taxes to fend off budget cuts.
The group is pushing for an increase in the state income tax to 5.95 percent while increasing the personal exemption to ease the burden on low- and middle-income residents. The group also wants higher tax rates on investment income.
"It's time to reinvest in ourselves," Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan said.
The group - including the Massachusetts Teachers Union, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and several City Councils and select boards - said the plan will raise about $2 billion to improve schools, repair infrastructure and expand economic development.
Anti-tax activists are pushing back against the call for new taxes, saying reforms and better management should come first.
Any push for higher taxes is likely to run into opposition, though top legislative leaders haven't ruled out increased taxes.