BOCES were created in 1948 by the New York State legislature to provide shared educational programs and services to school districts within the state. The chief executive officer of a BOCES also serves as the District Superintendent and works closely with local school districts as both a liaison to and agent of the New York State Commissioner of Education.

Today there are 37 BOCES. BOCES membership is not currently available to the "Big Five" city school districts: New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, and Syracuse.

The BOCES network is capable of including municipalities and divisions of the state with school districts in the provision of cost-effective services.