Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of AC&E/Equity & Access
Educational Service Agencies (ESAs) go by many different names, but what they do is relatively simple. They provide outstanding educational services for the communities and school districts in their region. ESAs are regionally based throughout the United States, providing a diverse portfolio of services.
ESAs have different names in different states. For example, in some states such as New York and Colorado, there are Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES); Iowa has Area Education Agencies (AEAs); Pennsylvania, you will ﬁnd Intermediate Units (IUs); and Wisconsin has Cooperative Educational Service Agencies (CESAs).
All in all, there are about twenty different names for these regional organizations. When we talk about the work of these organizations at a national level, we refer to them as Educational Service Agencies (ESAs). You can ﬁnd a list of states on the Association of Educational Service Agencies (AESA) website to see if your state is one of the 45 states that have ESAs.
The services that ESAs provide are customized to meet the various needs of school districts in their region. ESAs dedicate themselves to providing school districts with professional development for teachers, support staff, principals, superintendents and boards of education; they offer technology support and planning; administrative services to improve student learning, enhance the quality of instruction, expand equitable access to resources and maximize operating and ﬁnancial efﬁciencies. You will often ﬁnd them providing special education leadership and support, grant writing services, communication, and public relations support, Career and Technology Education (CTE) support, and program evaluation services to the school districts they serve.
In most states, the ESAs receive little to no state funding. They are entrepreneurial in offering cost-effective instructional and operational services that have an impact on the school districts and communities they serve. Often the support they offer goes well beyond the walls of the local school district.
ESAs sometimes ﬁnd themselves in the role of being the conveners of local stakeholders to bring a collective impact on a common agenda. An example of the type of impact an ESA has is at Region 12 in Waco, Texas. Over the past ﬁve years, Region 12 worked diligently with a variety of local stakeholders to develop an organization that is now known as Prosper Waco. They helped develop more than 30 cross-sector collaborations. Each project focuses on measurably improving education, health, and ﬁnancial security. This work culminated in a ﬁrst-of-its-kind in-district charter partnership, providing additional resources for students while maintaining local control over the community’s public schools. Prosper Waco’s big concept is that the entire community shares responsibility for educating every citizen.
In the state of Michigan, Genesee Intermediate School District (Michigan’s name for an ESA), located in Flint, managed a countywide emergency during the Flint Water Crisis. Over 20,000 children, birth to grade 12, have been potentially impacted by the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis. Through schools of choice, nearly 16,500 of these children are spread across Genesee County, attending a school outside of Flint Community Schools. As a result, the Genesee ISD played an integral role in coordinating the response efforts, from meeting immediate needs such as water distribution, to leading the large-scale implementation of expanded early childhood services. Their experience highlights the importance of an ESAs capacity, and the strong collaborative partnerships among all agencies from the county to the national level. The ESAs understand the value of developing strong county and regional partnerships before an emergency occurs, as well as how to coordinate and leverage federal, state, county, and local resource agencies when a crisis occurs.
ESAs provide high-quality services directly to the school districts in their regions, but these examples demonstrate that they often have a collective impact in their region and their state. ESAs are nimble organizations that exist to serve the communities and the school districts to make education the very best it can be!