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.
This REL Northwest study, published by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), examines the funding, delivery, and coordination of instructional services offered by Washington state’s network of nine educational service districts (ESDs), which serve more than a million students. Researchers found 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.
The study, requested by the Washington ESD Network Research Alliance, has helped the ESDs develop common data points, core working groups, and a process for looking across services areas and better coordinating their efforts.