In 1967 the Texas Legislature directed that the State Board of Education provide, by rules and regulations, for the establishment and operation of regional Education Service Centers (ESCs). Twenty Regional Service Centers were established to provide services to school districts throughout the state. The Centers are service organizations, not regulatory arms of the Texas Education Agency, and participation by schools in services of the centers is voluntary.
Chapter 8 of the Texas Education Code, enacted by the 75th Texas Legislature in 1997, specified the following purposes of ESCs:
"Regional Education Service Centers shall:
1. assist school districts in improving student performance in each region of the system;
2. enable school districts to operate more efficiently and economically; and
3. implement initiatives assigned by the legislature or the commissioner."
ESCs do not possess tax levying or bonding authority and rely on grants and contracts for funding. Revenues are received from three primary sources. State funds provide approximately 26%; federal funds provide 40%; and contracts with school districts comprise 34%.
Regional ESCs support local districts in attaining the missions, goals, and objectives set forth by the Texas Education Agency. The mission of the Texas Education Agency is "to build the capacity of the Texas public education system to provide to all students a quality education that enables them to achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic, and educational opportunities of our state and nation."
State-provided financial support must be used to develop, maintain, and deliver services to improve student and school district performance. Annual improvement plans provided to the commissioner must describe services the center will provide to:
1. low-performing campuses based on the state accountability system,
2. the lowest-performing campuses in the region, and
3. other campuses.
Services must also be provided that:
1. enable districts to operate more efficiently and economically,
2. assist in teaching a variety of subject areas,
3. address districts rated academically unacceptable under the state system of accreditation, and
4. promote compliance with state laws and rules.
In addition, the commissioner or legislature may identify initiatives to be implemented by regional ESCs. Other services from Centers may be requested and purchased by any school district or campus in the state. However, Regional Education Service Centers may not perform a regulatory function regarding a school district.
The Centers provide an array of services to school districts. In support of school administration, they provide services in such areas as computer support for business and student services, administrator training, bus driver training, and cooperative purchasing. Centers provide a wide range of curriculum improvement and staff development opportunities for teachers. Technical assistance and training in instructional technology, programs for special populations, and staff development in instructional improvement are the most common. Centers also operate cooperatives among school districts for programs such as drug abuse prevention, migrant education, accelerated schools, and adult education.
ESCs play a leading role in providing training and technical assistance for the implementation of the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS) and accountability. Centers assist campuses in the development of school improvement plans, provide training to campus teams, and deliver ongoing support to the teams to improve student learning on individual campuses. Field service agents from each center provide technical assistance and support to the administration of the district. A certification officer in each Center provides immediate answers to related questions from local personnel. Field-based certification approval is available through these operations. Center child nutrition specialists provide technical assistance to local food service and instructional staff.
In conjunction with the commissioner and Texas Education Agency personnel, centers have implemented and currently operate the Texas Education Telecommunications Network (TETN). Connecting the twenty ESCs with the TEA, this network reduces travel costs, increases productivity, and adds value for local, regional, and state operations. Regional and local initiatives to design, create and utilize telecommunications are currently underway.
Each education service center is governed by a seven-member lay board. Members of the Boards of Directors are elected by members of local district board of trustees located in each region.
These boards develop policies regarding center management and operation, programs and services to be offered, and financial support. Also, boards are empowered to employ and dismiss an executive director subject to the approval of the commissioner. The commissioner has broad responsibility and authority concerning the number and location of centers, regional boundaries, and the allocation of state and federal funds among centers.
In addition to evaluations performed by Regional Boards and Center clients, each ESC is evaluated annually by the commissioner. This evaluation includes:
1. an audit of the Center's finances.
2. a review of the Center's performance on standards and indicators established by the Texas Legislature and the Commissioner,
3. a review of client satisfaction regarding services provided, and
4. other factors deemed appropriate by the Commissioner.
ESCs found to be deficient based on these accountability measures are subject to sanctions by the Commissioner.
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