Across the country, 79 percent of public schools rely on educational service agencies (also called educational service districts) to provide services such as handling financial and data-processing needs, implementing school improvement initiatives, and providing curriculum and professional development. As public education budgets tighten, states, districts, and schools are looking to these agencies to provide more coordinated, efficient, and cost-effective services.
A new study by Regional Education Laboratory (REL) Northwest examines the funding, delivery, and coordination of instructional services offered by Washington state’s network of nine educational service districts (ESDs), which serves more than a million students. The study — Coordination of Instructional Services by Washington State’s Educational Service Districts — finds that almost half of ESD funding is allocated for instructional services, although the number of school districts served and spending per district vary substantially. The most important or needed services, as perceived by ESD leaders, do not always receive the most funding. And, while the ESDs want to coordinate some services, the necessary structures to do that (e.g., defined timelines, common program data, defined outcome measures) aren’t always in place.
According to lead author Mark Endsley, the data analysis completed for the study shows that designated state support for the Washington ESD Network only amounts to about 2 percent of the ESDs’ budgets. “Consequently, the ESDs operate as independent businesses because they have to generate the revenues needed for all the services they provide.”
Endsley notes that the study helped network members, who are part of a REL Northwest research alliance, develop common data points and core working groups. “They now have a substantial process they can use to look at different service areas and how to better coordinate their efforts.”