AUGUSTA — About a dozen people told a legislative committee Tuesday afternoon that it’s time to overhaul the way disability services are provided for children age 3 to until they enter the K-12 school system.

The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee is working on a bill that would transfer that responsibility from the state to local school districts.

Child Development Services, which is overseen by the state Department of Education, has been falling short of its responsibilities for at least a decade, leaving hundreds of Maine’s youngest children without the services they need and are legally entitled to. The issues have been most severe for children age 3 to 6, who are served separately from younger children.

The Legislature and Education Department hope to remedy this problem by moving responsibility for this age group from CDS to the state’s 209 public school districts. The bill discussed Tuesday is based on a plan Education Commissioner Pender Makin presented to the committee last month.

In over three hours of public comment, educators, nonprofit leaders and experts spoke about both the need for change and the plan itself.

Everyone seems to agree that moving services for 3- to 6-year-olds to school districts is likely to be more effective and efficient in the long run.


The concerns are in the details: What will happen to CDS employees in the long term? What if the state’s funding formula isn’t sufficient and some of the financial burden falls on local taxpayers? What if schools can’t find enough service providers to get the job done? What will be done for the hundreds of children who are currently going without services they need? How will transportation be guaranteed?

Some proponents of the plan shared concerns or suggestions about how it should be tweaked, including that the transition should happen more gradually than the four years the plan calls for, that the shortage of special educators must be addressed, and that a system of monitoring outcomes for children is needed.

Some said that the state just needs to move forward – the need is urgent. They said that transferring responsibility to school districts is the best way to meet the regulatory and service needs and that the districts will be able to do so.

Many said the latest plan is the best they have seen in decades.

“We are very much in support of this bill,” said Kathy Hamblen, the director of special services for Gorham schools, and president of the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, speaking for MASDEC.

“These students are part of our communities and having them under our community umbrella allows us to better plan for their transition to elementary school and we feel confident that we will be better able to meet the regulatory and service needs under our current (school district) systems than the current convoluted CDS system is able to do.”


No one spoke in opposition, but several who were neither for nor against the proposal said they think transitioning this responsibility to school districts has potential, but that the plan needs to be altered.

If passed as written, the bill would set in motion a plan to spend $25 million over four years on the transition – $10 million in the first year, $4 million for infrastructure upgrades and $11 million for private special education schools.

The state would also pay for 100% of education costs for kids ages 3 to 6 with disabilities. That would include both operating costs and special education services, including speech, occupational and physical therapists. The money to do that would be taken from CDS’ current budget of around $60 million.

The state would also support school districts in creating the legally required Individualized Education Plans for this age group. The state would also help with billing and other complex paperwork.

Suggested tweaks include creating specific metrics to help decide whether a school or district is ready to take on this new responsibility, creating an invoice system to reimburse school districts for the entire actual cost of providing these services, and ensuring school districts have the funds necessary to transport their new students.

Other recommendations included creating a plan to provide services to the 550 children whose needs are currently unmet, and to provide compensatory services to those who have lacked them in the past.

Disability Rights Maine has long supported transferring these disability service responsibilities to school districts, said Atlee Reilly, DRM’s legal director. At the same time, it has always had one major concern: how the state DOE will ensure that school districts will succeed where Child Development Services has failed.

“After reviewing the new CDS transfer proposal, which we understand is the “starting point” for (the bill), our position has not changed in any significant way,” said Reilly. “CDS is not working. And the transition away from CDS needs to take place.” But, he said, the question of how the DOE will ensure school districts succeed and Maine’s 3- to 6-year-olds will get appropriate services remains.

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee is scheduled to have a work session Thursday to further debate what will go into the final version of the bill.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.