Child Development Services (CDS) is currently responsible for the state-wide administration of special education services for children with disabilities who are birth to 5 years (or in the school age range) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Recently, the Department of Education has developed a new model for providing these services, the intent of which is to move the provision of children with disabilities ages 3 years to school age range from current State run programming to the public schools systems. Under this model, all aspects of special education services for this age group would become the responsibility of the local district. This includes case management, child find, evaluation, eligibility determination, IEP development, and the provision of special education and related services.
The impetus for this change is to transform the current model to better address the needs of children with disabilities by decreasing their transitions between programs at an early age, providing more frequent, appropriate and timely services closer to home, and introducing an earlier integration into their local schools.
At this point in time, Maine is one of the only states in which the public school does not assume responsibility for eligible children upon their 3rd birthday.
Under the current model, flat state funding, rising costs in special education and inadequate management of resources have caused not only a multimillion dollar deficit within the CDS program, but also a shortage in state level special education service which has impacted hundreds of Maine children who are currently not receiving the services they need.
Also under the current model, children and families experience two transitions within the State’s CDS program: the first from CDS’ early Intervention program to CDS’ program for children ages 3 to 5/school age range, and then another transition to the public school system. Under the legislation, children and families would experience only one transition – from CDS’ early intervention program to the public school system. Also, unlike the current model, eligible children will have the opportunity to attend their local, neighborhood school rather than being transported, sometimes significant distances, to attend out-of-district, center-based programs.
The transformation is anticipated to address these issues by providing earlier integration into local districts, and by better use of resources already in place within districts, including existing district-employed special education teachers, therapists, human resource and finance staff, and transportation infrastructure.
The Department recognizes that the proposed transition presents a significant paradigm shift, and that there is a need for a measured, tiered implementation, as well as ongoing fiscal and technical support including direct state funding to local districts.
As part of a working plan to create a smooth transition for local districts, the Department is currently working with one district that is planning to pilot a program that will offer special education services for children ages 3 to school age in their district. A number of other districts have approached the Department eager to take on the responsibility as well. The transition process is expected to take a couple of years.
Department is gathering questions and information from local districts and other stakeholders. Further communications will be available to help answer to frequently asked questions and this information will be used to help inform the process. In addition, a stakeholder group, including district leaders and parents will be formed to advise the proposed legislation and transition plan.
The proposal will be reflected in proposed departmental legislation submitted for the Legislature’s consideration during the 2018 short session.
While this proposed transition may present some initial challenges, the Department is confident that it is ultimately in the best interest of Maine’s children with disabilities.
For more information contact Roy Fowler, CDS State Director for the Maine Department of Education at Roy.Fowler@maine.gov.