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NEA and MTA salute public education's unsung heroes on ESP Day

WASHINGTON - In honor of Education Support Professionals Day, the National Education Association is profiling individuals who dedicate their lives to preparing nutritious meals for students, nursing ill youngsters back to health, and safely transporting America's students to and from school.

Education support professionals -- commonly known as ESPs -- make up more than 40 percent of all public school employees. While they devote countless hours to students and are critical members of the school team, they are woefully underpaid. In many parts of the country, school support professionals work two or even three jobs to feed and shelter their families, or earn so little that they qualify for government assistance.

"Education support professionals are public education's unsung heroes," said NEA President Reg Weaver.  "Just as we all remember a favorite teacher in our lives, we also cherish the memory of the everyday assistance provided by our school nurse, bus driver or custodian. ESPs work closely with our students and care deeply about what happens to them. Almost always underpaid and often underappreciated, they are key to creating great public schools for every child."

According to research compiled by NEA, ESPs are predominately female (74 percent), married (62 percent) and have lived in their communities for an average of 26 years. Seven out of 10 (70 percent) work 40 hours or more per week and nearly eight out of 10 (78 percent) have responsibilities for ensuring student and staff safety.
 
Additional findings include:

  • The median age for ESPs is 43.
  • More than two-thirds (68 percent) of all ESPs earn less than $25,000 per year.
  • ESPs in technical services such as computer operators and programmers, electrical technicians and graphic artists have the highest earnings—averaging $43,547 per year. 
  • Food service ESPs and paraeducators such as teachers' aides, library technicians, preschool caregivers and playground monitors have the lowest earnings—averaging $15,626 and $18,205 per year, respectively. Through its nationwide salary initiative, NEA is pushing for an appropriate living wage as starting pay for all education support professionals.
  • Nearly one-third (30 percent) of ESPs are ethnic minorities. Blacks comprise the largest proportion at 15 percent. Hispanics account for 12 percent and Asians comprise three percent of the total ESP workforce.
  • Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) have more than 15 years of experience.
  • Almost nine out of 10 (86 percent) intend to stay in the education support field, with a strong majority (60 percent) expecting to stay in their current job until retirement.
  • Most ESPs (75 percent) live in the school districts where they work.
  • More than three-quarters (78 percent) volunteer with community organizations and 50 percent are involved in volunteer activities with students.

For more ESP facts and figures, including a detailed breakdown of the jobs they do and the salaries they make, download NEA's ESP fact sheet at www.nea.org/aew.

Education Support Professionals Day is part of NEA's 85th annual American Education Week celebration, taking place this year November 12-18.

Education Support Professionals Day was first celebrated in 1987 after NEA's Representative Assembly, the Association's annual conference of 10,000 member delegates, called for the creation of a way to honor contributions of school support staff.  Education Support Professionals Day is observed on Wednesday during American Education Week.