Gov. Paul LePage campaigned on putting people first. By cutting red tape, he seeks to put people before bureaucrats. He also looks out for the interest of taxpayers. But bureaucrats in Augusta who have remained in place through Democratic, Republican and independent administrations are putting their own interests ahead of the interests of children and taxpayers.
Two provisions in the supplemental budget bill, both in Part W of LD 100, put education bureaucrats ahead of children. Legislators should oppose Part W, and the administration should remove Part W from the bill.
Both provisions pertain to Child Development Services, which provides early intervention and early childhood special education to infants, toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities. CDS has recently experienced cost overruns — but Part W would reward bureaucrats by letting them serve children more slowly and letting them deny parent choice, even though parent choice saves taxpayers money.
Part W would eliminate “Kindergarten-CDS parent choice.” With choice, parents of young children with disabilities who have summer and fall birthdays can decide whether their children should enter kindergarten as the youngest in their class or wait a year to enter kindergarten when they’re older. Parents of children without disabilities have always had this right, but parents of children with disabilities used to be denied this right because their children would lose CDS services if they delayed kindergarten.
Kindergarten-CDS parent choice is taxpayer-friendly and has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since it was established six years ago because the total state and local cost of educating a child in CDS is less than the cost of educating the same child in kindergarten. Nevertheless, bureaucrats in the Maine Department of Education have always opposed parent choice because they don’t want to bother administering it and routing the money needed to fund the child’s education to the child’s regional CDS office (even though it would cost taxpayers even more money if the child were in kindergarten that year).
Part W would also lengthen the CDS “evaluation timeline.” Federal law requires that young children with disabilities must be evaluated before they can begin the early childhood special education they may need. The default is to allow 60 calendar days to complete the evaluation and begin services. But DOE bureaucrats have always wanted to let CDS take up to 45 school days to complete the evaluations. This may be appropriate for K-12 public schools, but it is inappropriate for CDS.
Forty-five school days can be more than 4½ months when the time includes summer, which is too long in the life of a preschooler with a disability. Since CDS offices are open year-round anyway, the Legislature has passed laws telling DOE to keep the more reasonable 60-calendar-day timeline in CDS while maintaining the longer 45-school-day timeline in K-12.
Last year, DOE defied the Legislature and lengthened the CDS timeline unilaterally — such a provocative bureaucratic overreach that it triggered a legislative study of departmental authority. Now the same DOE bureaucrats are trying to use the supplemental budget bill to again give themselves extra time before starting services for individual preschoolers with disabilities.
The cost of the shorter 60-calendar-day CDS timeline is modest. And Kindergarten-CDS parent choice actually saves taxpayers money. Existing timeline and existing choice are child-friendly, and neither should be changed. Their repeal in Part W of the supplemental budget bill should therefore be rejected.
Better solutions exist for reining in CDS. A good start exists in Part K of the budget bill, which requires the commissioner of education to report on a plan by March 31 to save money without affecting services. The statutes establishing CDS list several benchmarks on which DOE should be reporting, and Part K should be amended to require the commissioner to make a plan to achieve those benchmarks.
To put people first, support children over bureaucrats, and save taxpayers money, the governor and the Legislature should reject Part W of LD 100.
Alan Cobo-Lewis is the parent of a child who has a disability.