Shake Up in Preschool Special Ed: What’s the Deal?

Shake-Up in Preschool Special Ed: What’s the Deal? Kindergarteners in Gorham School District are facing some hurdles, especially when it comes to speech. They need more help and resources than ever before, according to Kathy Hamblen, director of special services.

Similar stories are popping up across Maine. Angela Moore, director of special education in Brewer, says they’re seeing a rise in special needs among kindergarteners, which weren’t caught before they hit the public school system.

Testifying for Change

Educators spilled the beans to the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Tuesday. They were all in for a bill that would shake up how preschool special education is done in Maine. The Maine Department of Education rolled out a plan on Feb. 2, and this bill is based on that plan.

What’s the Plan?

Here’s the gist: The proposal wants to move the responsibility for education of kids aged three to five with disabilities from Child Development Services (CDS) to public school districts. CDS will still handle younger kids, but it’ll also help public schools get up to speed with their new responsibilities.

Changes on the Horizon

The bill’s got a few tweaks from the original plan. One big change is the timeline—it’s stretched from three years to four years to make things more doable.

Educators’ Concerns

Folks who testified had mostly good things to say about the changes, but they’re not all sunshine and rainbows. There are worries about staffing, certification, and accountability during the transition.

Who’s Paying?

One big question mark is who’s on the hook for compensatory services. These are the extra services kids need when they miss out on evaluations or services they’re supposed to get. Educators want CDS to foot the bill, not public schools.

What’s Next?

The Department of Education’s Courtney Belolan spilled the tea on the plan’s key points. Memorandums of understanding will be key—they’ll lay out how CDS and public schools will work together.

No Mandate for Public Preschools

Public schools won’t have to start preschools, but they can if they want. They can also beef up their own programs or team up with community providers. Belolan sees this as a step toward universal preschool.

Boosting Capacity

The plan aims to serve more kiddos by letting public schools provide services in small groups. That means more kids can get the help they need.

Still Work to Do

It’s not a quick fix, folks. There are still hundreds of kids on waitlists for services. Testifiers urged the committee to think about ways to beef up the workforce, like paying workers more or helping them with education debt.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Rep. Michael Brennan took us on a trip down memory lane, reminding us how long Maine’s been struggling to help these kids. While there are still kinks to work out, most education groups are on board with the plan.

What’s the Holdup?

Steven Bailey from the Maine School Boards Association and School Management Association didn’t see any major red flags with the proposal. He’s all for giving it a shot and seeing how it pans out.

What’s Next?

The education committee’s gearing up for a work session on the bill Thursday. Let’s see where this ride takes us!