The federal government is now examining Maine’s embattled Child Development Services agency, the state education commissioner told employees this month.

Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“We’ve had outreach from (the federal Office of Special Education Programs) and they’ve heard what’s been said in the media (about CDS) and so they’re poking in and interested,” Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin said in a Zoom meeting with employees on Jan. 10. The Press Herald obtained a recording of the meeting from an employee.

CDS is responsible for providing resources to children with disabilities before they enter the K-12 system. The agency came under renewed scrutiny in November 2023 when 96% of its employees voted that they had no confidence in Roberta Lucas, the agency’s director. They said the agency has long-running issues that make their jobs impossible or near-impossible and that children are waiting unreasonably long times for services.

A Maine Department of Education spokesperson was adamant Tuesday that the agency is not under investigation and that Makin’s comments referred to a routine audit.

But immediately after Makin told employees that the federal agency was “interested” in CDS, she said “they’re also doing an in-depth audit of the state of Maine’s special education pre-K through 12. ”

The spokesperson refused to answer further questions about her comments and what the “outreach” by the Office of Special Education Programs entails.


The state is required to provide services such as speech, occupational and physical therapy for disabled children from birth until they enter kindergarten. But for years the agency has failed to give kids the early intervention services they need and are legally entitled to receive.

Makin told employees that she’s worried that if the state does not fix the system soon, the federal government will intervene.

“It would be very easy for OSEP, the feds, to come in, which I’m nervous that they could,” she said during the Jan. 10 meeting. She referred to this scenario as “as very real possibility.”

The Office of Special Education Programs is part of the federal education department and supports programs around the country to help educate children with disabilities. A spokesperson for the federal department could not confirm Tuesday if the agency is investigating Maine’s CDS.

Makin also told employees about a plan for the future of CDS that she will present to the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Thursday.

The proposal, she said, would have local school districts take on most of the agency’s responsibilities for providing services to 3- and 4-year-olds. But children who are currently being served well could remain in their programs.


The agency would financially support schools by giving them money to contract with speech, occupational therapy and other service providers, Makin said. CDS employees would retain their jobs and the agency’s nine statewide service centers would remain available to support school districts, she said.

Gov. Janet Mills appears to support the idea.

In a written version of her annual State of the State address on Tuesday, Mills said CDS is no longer working for Maine kids.

“Every other state in the nation educates pre-K children with disabilities through their public school systems. Maine should do the same,” Mills said. “It will take work and it will take time – but, fundamentally, it will be better for Maine children.”

She encouraged lawmakers to “give this proposal your full consideration.”

The agency has blamed the Legislature for Child Development Services’ current situation.

“The Maine Department of Education offered recommendations to the Legislature in 2022 to solve these structural issues with CDS,” Department of Education spokesperson Marcus Mrowka said in a statement Tuesday. The recommendations, Mrowka said, would have put Maine in line with federal guidelines regarding integration for kids with disabilities.

“Unfortunately, the Legislature did not act on those recommendations,” Mrowka said.

Legislators, as well as activists, K-12 district superintendents, pre-K teachers and others have said they opposed the 2022 recommendation because it did not offer a sustainable or long-term financial plan to reform CDS.

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