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Educational Service Agencies (ESAs) in many states play key roles in the economic and efficient provision of a wide range of educational services to their component school districts. ESAs are known by a variety of names including Educational Service Units (ESUs), Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), and Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).
Federal law defines an ESA as a "regional public multiservice agency authorized by state statute to develop, manage, and provide services or programs to local educational agencies." To determine whether an ESA is eligible to receive Schools and Libraries Program support as an applicant, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules governing the program require USAC to determine whether the ESA provides elementary or secondary education as determined under state law. USAC determines whether the entity provides elementary or secondary education to its student population and whether the ESA facility is eligible for support because elementary or secondary education, as defined in state law, is provided at that facility. FCC rules do not specifically define or address ESAs.
USAC conducts a biennial survey of states and territories to determine whether ESAs are eligible to receive funding. State and territory officials are asked to describe the programs served by ESAs and whether ESAs operate facilities that they either own or lease that contain classrooms. The officials are asked to provide legal support for the information they supply and to certify the accuracy of their determinations. The Eligibility Table for Educational Service Agencies includes the most recent information provided by the states and territories.
ESAs may perform as many as four roles in the Schools and Libraries Program.
When ESAs function as service providers, two potential conflicts may raise concerns.
These roles raise potential conflict of interest issues, primarily with respect to complying with the FCC's competitive bidding requirements, and assuring that ESAs with the dual roles of providing technology plan development services and approving technology plans are not compromising the technology plan process.
ESAs Not Providing Eligible Services: An ESA that does not serve as a service provider may assume the function of an applicant in filing the FCC Form 470 (Description of Services Requested and Certification Form), evaluating bids, filing the FCC Form 471 (Description of Services Ordered and Certification Form) applications, and obtaining discounts for services for itself (if it is an eligible recipient of discounted services) and its component districts.
An ESA that does not function as a service provider may assume the function of a consultant to its component districts in developing technology plans, consulting with the component districts as to their service and equipment requirements, and helping its component districts apply for and administer the receipt of discounts.
An ESA that does not function as a service provider may approve technology plans. However, an ESA that has played a significant role in developing a technology plan as a consultant may approve that technology plan only if the ESA can assure USAC, and provide documentation supporting its assurance, that the ESA maintains a review and approval process independent of the technology plan development role.
In determining whether the ESA's role is "significant," USAC would consider, but not be limited to, the following: (i) whether the ESA developed and wrote the technology plan; and (ii) whether the ESA provided advice about the content of the technology plan that was substantially incorporated in the plan.
ESAs Providing Eligible Services: Fundamental requirements of the Schools and Libraries Program include that applicants select service providers through a fair and open competitive process, that the most cost-effective bid for services or equipment is selected with price being the primary factor considered, and that the alternative selected is the most cost-effective means of meeting educational needs and technology plan goals.
A potential conflict may arise when an ESA is a service provider and also an applicant, a consultant to school districts, or a technology plan approver. The potential conflict is that the selection of the service provider may not be fair and open but may, in fact, provide an unfair advantage to the ESA as service provider.
The potential conflict may be resolved if the ESA provides only one category of eligible services (Telecommunications Service, Internet Access, Internal Connections other than Basic Maintenance, or Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections), and is functioning in its non-service provider role(s) (e.g., applicant, consultant, technology plan approver) only with respect to separate applications for other categories of services.
Examples include, but are not limited to the following: (i) an ESA cannot be both an applicant and a service provider on the same application; (ii) an ESA that is a consultant to an applicant for a particular application cannot also be a service provider on that application; (iii) an ESA that provides consulting services to develop and/or approves the applicant's technology plan cannot be a service provider on the applications that rely on that technology plan.
ESA’s in general are large enough to provide organizational and functional separation between staff acting as service providers and staff providing technology plan support and application and administration assistance. However, the ESA must be prepared to clearly show the separation of functions to USAC with appropriate documentation. Examples of such documentation include organizational flow charts, budgetary codes, and supervisory administration.
Even if state procurement rules permit public school districts to select an ESA's services on a non-competitive basis, FCC rules require that applicants for services must use competitive bidding for eligible services. The FCC competitive bidding requirements must be met to be eligible for discounts. These requirements include:
Some states provide offsetting aid payments to public school districts that have the effect of reducing some ESA charges for equipment and services eligible for discounts. If an ESA is acting as a service provider, any state reductions must be applied after the discount is applied. The evaluation of alternatives must include price without discounts as the primary factor. It does not violate FCC rules to include another factor (weighted less heavily than the non-discounted price) relating to the availability of discounts from other sources for particular alternatives.
Finally, since ESAs may be both applicants and service providers on separate applications, discounts cannot be paid twice for the same service. If an ESA is serving as an Internet service provider to its districts and the districts are seeking discounts on that Internet access, the ESA cannot also seek discounts as a consortium leader for those services from the underlying providers.