Real ESD Reform

Tuesday, January 10. 2006

by Wayne Brady
Several months ago, I had an idea that I thought would make the Education Service Districts (ESDs) more efficient.

Under current law, the ESDs receive a fixed percentage of the state school fund and the school districts receive the balance. The ESDs then provide services to the school districts based on a local service plan developed by the ESD and the school districts. Specific school districts are required to work with the ESD assigned to them.

The very nature of the relationship between the schools and the ESDs invites inefficiency. The schools are receiving services that are subsidized by the direct funding from the state to the ESDs and are therefore not priced by the market.

I propose a new arrangement in which the ESDs would receive no direct funding from the state. The money that is currently being directed to the ESDs would be provided directly to the school districts. The school districts would have the option of buying services from any ESD or from another provider. This would allow the school districts to shop for the best deals. The ESDs would be required to compete with each other and with other organizations that might provide the services needed by the school districts.

If, for example, a school district cannot afford a full-time nurse, they can now get a part-time nurse from their ESD. Under the proposed system, they could get the part-time nurse from an ESD, from a clinic, or other source.

The transition between the current system and the proposed system could include a phase out of the direct ESD funding over 2 or 3 years.

I recently found out that Senator Deckert had proposed a similar plan during the 2005 legislative session. He told me the Senate was supportive of this idea but the House was not. He said the ESDs and the rural school districts joined together to oppose this idea. I can see why he ESDs would oppose it. I cannot see why the rural school districts would.

I would also welcome any constructive criticism of the idea.

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