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NEA News

National Leaders call for Higher Pay for Education Support Professionals

NEA hosted a townhall on ESP Day of American Education Week to lift the voices of support professionals who play a critical role in students’ lives.
bus driver
Published: November 17, 2023
This article originally appeared on

Key Takeaways

  1. More than 3,500 Education Support Professionals (ESPs) participated in the teletownhall as part of American Education Week.
  2. The majority of participants said higher pay would make them feel more respected in their jobs.
  3. Sen. Markey (D-Mass) announced his new resolution, Paraprofessionals and Education Support Staff Bill of Rights.

The National Education Association hosted a Championing Education Support Professionals” National Tele-Town Hall on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, on Education Support Professional (ESP) Day, celebrated on the Wednesday of American Education Week. 

NEA President Becky Pringle and ESP of the Year Pamella Johnson led the discussion about the important role ESPs play in the lives of students, the critical issues facing their professions, and the things they need to ensure every student succeeds. 

More than 3,500 ESPs from around the country called in for the event.

Pringle welcomed the participants and thanked them for everything they do for students and schools every day.

“You make our schools and communities stronger,” she said. “And you make our union stronger.”

Johnson told her fellow ESPs that she knows they share her passion for serving students and that all of them go above and beyond in their work.

But, she said, that work is not given the respect it is due because ESPs are not paid what they deserve.

“On average, ESPs are making below a living wage in all 50 states,” Johnson said. “That is not acceptable.”

During the tele town-hall, participants were asked what would make them feel more respected at work. The overwhelming response: higher pay. Second on their list was to have a voice in decision making at school, and third was to be given more professional development opportunities.

To access those opportunities and to find ways to advocate for higher pay and a seat at the table, Pringle encouraged the ESPS to text “ESP” to 48744.

Pringle also said that elections matter and that voting for pro-public education candidates ensures more education champions are in elected office. Education champions like Sen. Edward J Markey (D-Mass), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  

Sen. Markey joined the thousands of ESPs on the call to share the new legislation he introduced earlier in November:  Paraprofessionals and Education Support Staff Bill of Rights, a resolution that would call for living wages, good benefits, and fair working conditions for the paraeducators, classroom assistants, bus drivers, custodial workers, and other education support professionals who serve as the backbone of our education system by providing essential services which keep schools running and students thriving.

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are co-sponsors of the resolution.

On ESP Day, we celebrate you,” Markey said. “You make schools safe, healthy places where our students can learn and thrive. [During the pandemic] you showed up and worked when the rest of the world shut down and stayed home. You worked to make the promise of education a reality for all students.”

The resolution, endorsed by NEA and many other education and labor organizations would call for paraprofessionals and education support staff to have:

  • Livable, competitive wages, and access to benefits, including health care and paid leave;
  • The supplies, resources, and training they need to do their jobs; 
  • Meaningful voice in workplace policies and the right to negotiate for better working conditions;
  • The dignity of safe, healthy, and adequate staffed workplaces; and
  • Year-round job security and opportunities for growth.

“For too long, we have asked paraprofessionals and education support staff to do too much with too little,” said Sen. Markey. “We have asked them to educate, feed, transport, and support students in their path to grow, learn, and thrive – all without the pay, benefits, and job security they deserve. My Paraprofessionals and Education Support Staff Bill of Rights is a call for action to provide these workers with the dignity, respect, and recognition that they have long deserved. Well-paid, well-treated, union staff make stronger schools and stronger communities.”

Pringle and Johnson applauded Markey’s resolution and Pringle announced that she has made a National ESP Bill of Rights a priority of NEA to drive wins for ESPs around the country.

“We now have statewide ESP Bill of Rights and Respect campaigns, like those underway in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Maryland, and those developing in Ohio and Delaware, ” Pringle said. “I want every state to know that this is work you can do.”

Pringle ended the townhall the way she began, thanking ESPs for everything they do unwaveringly for their students and schools.

“Schools won’t work without you,” she said. “And I certainly couldn’t do my job without you. We salute you, we appreciate you, and we will win!”


Keeping the Promise of Quality Public Education

With more than 18,000 members across the state, UEA supports equal opportunities for success for ALL Utah students, and respect and support for all educators.