Maine is moving ahead with plans to study its special education services for young children while lawmakers consider shifting services for preschool-age children away from the state to local school districts.

On Wednesday the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs voted unanimously to move ahead with work to be done by Boston-based Public Consulting Group, Inc. on the condition that a review of existing early childhood services be completed before the group brings a proposed implementation plan back to the committee.

The first phase of the group’s work, to include a review of current services and how early childhood special education is provided in other states, is due before the education committee by April 1, said Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cumberland, co-chairwoman of the committee.

An implementation plan for how the state could move forward on shifting special education for preschool-age children to local school districts would follow by Dec. 1.

“This is reinforcing that they will come to us with an analysis and recommendations before proceeding to the implementation process,” Millett said. “There were some concerns on the (Special Education Services Advisory Committee) and we wanted to be absolutely clear that’s what’s going to happen.”

The study comes as a bill before the Legislature, L.D. 1715, proposes eliminating Child Development Services, the division of the Department of Education that currently oversees special education for young children, in favor of moving services for preschool-age children to local school districts.

The legislation follows budgetary and other concerns related to Child Development Services and questions about whether the shift would streamline services.

Critics of the proposal question how local school districts would fund the additional services, whether districts have space in their buildings for more children and how equipped they are to find the specialists young children need.

The study, which was approved by lawmakers as part of the state budget last year, is estimated to cost between $200,000 and $250,000.

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