Superintendents of the seven largest school districts in Iowa gathered in 1985 to discuss the value of forming a coalition to address school finance issues and other legislative concerns. The ideas and discussions stimulated the formation of The Urban Education Network of Iowa (UEN), an "informal network to provide support and information to member districts on issues of mutual concern and priority".
The seven member coalition grew in 1987 when Iowa City CSD became the eighth member district of the UEN. The leadership for the UEN rotated among the superintendents, with Dr. William Lepley, Superintendent of the Council Bluffs CSD serving as the first Chairperson. Administrative responsibilities and support came from Dr. James E. Wise, Director of Board and Community Relations, for the Des Moines Public Schools.
The Urban Education Network of Iowa incorporated in 1993 as a nonprofit organization. Annual fees were established, Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws were written, a Mission and Goal Statements were developed, and formal operating procedures were established. Dr. Wise retired administrator from the Des Moines Public Schools in 1993 and was employed as the first UEN Executive Director. In this role, Dr. Wise became responsible for defining, developing, and implementing programs; implementing working relationships with other educational organizations; and working closely with the Iowa legislature in developing public policy.
In 2006, Dr. Wise retired from the UEN and Dr. Lew Finch became the new Executive Director of UEN. Dr. Finch came to UEN after 35 years as a public school superintendent, serving most recently at the Cedar Rapids Community Schools.
In 2011, UEN adopted a change to its bylaws to include, in addition to charter membership based on two or more high schools, associate membership of other public schools meeting certain urban criteria (size and poverty concentration). Membership in UEN grew from the original 8 districts to 19 districts as of 2020.
UEN Steering Committee, led by Dr. Tom Ahart, Des Moines Superintendent, further defined and refined criteria of urban characteristics. Bylaws were changed to specify membership: Charter members are districts with two or more high schools. Existing associate members were members as long as they continued membership. New member districts must meet at least 4 of 6 criteria of diversity (size and concentrations of poverty, minority, special education, English-language learners, and immigrants).
Dr. Lew Finch retired from UEN as Executive Director on June 30, 2020, after 60 years of service to public education. UEN expanded it's relationship with Iowa School Finance Information Services (ISFIS) to provide not just Legislative Analyst services but also Association Management services, accounting, and website support beginning with FY 2021. Margaret Buckton serves in the role of UEN Executive Director.
UEN membership grows to 24-member districts for the 2023-24 school year, with the addition of Ankeny and Waukee, each with two high schools, and other associate members districts meeting criteria designed in the Bylaws. In the Fall of 2023, the UEN Steering Committee revised Bylaws and membership criteria once again stating new members must be at least 3,000 students and also meet at least 3 of 5 additional urban criteria.