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Education officials face questions over services for young Maine children with disabilities

The Maine State House is seen at sunrise, March 16, 2023, in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
The Maine State House is seen at sunrise, March 16, 2023, in Augusta, Maine.

Maine's education commissioner faced pointed questioning from lawmakers on Tuesday morning over continued problems in the state's system for providing services to young children with disabilities.

Child Development Services, a quasi-independent organization overseen by the state Department of Education, has been under scrutiny in recent years for failing to provide children with services for which they're eligible.

And last month, a majority of workers at the agency voted no-confidence in its director, citing staff turnover, high caseloads, and what they described as a toxic work environment.

At a legislative meeting on Tuesday, Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin said that she couldn't comment on the no-confidence vote. But she said the administration has invested in new training for staff, and made changes to improve services.

"There is a dramatic increase — I don't have the number, but a dramatic — increase in the number of children, over the past three years, who have been provided services," Makin said. "So we're providing more services, to more children, than ever, in the history of CDS."

But lawmakers noted continued staff vacancies and turnover at the agency, and also called for more information on the caseloads being placed on CDS staff.

For several years, state officials have looked at potentially moving the responsibility for servicing children ages 3-5 from the state to local school districts, though no concrete plans have been implemented.

The Department of Education is requiredto submit a report by February with recommendations for how to improve services, including information on funding models, employment and infrastructure needs.