Credits: Imani Sims/AFT
Credits: Imani Sims/AFT

USA: Legislators recognize education support personnel play a critical role in providing quality education

published 14 November 2023 updated 22 March 2024

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), both affiliated to Education international (EI), have welcomed the introduction of the Paraprofessionals and Education Support Staff Bill of Rights, seeking to provide fair wages, comprehensive benefits and equitable working conditions to the dedicated paraeducators, classroom assistants, bus drivers and custodial workers “who form the bedrock of the education system.”

The bill was introduced by US Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, alongside prominent co-sponsors Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

It emphasizes the importance of these education professional in maintaining essential services for schools and thriving students, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Paraprofessionals and Education Support Staff Bill of Rights recognizes the important role these educators play in our schools and in our kids’ lives,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “And [the bill also] calls for fairer pay, better benefits, workplace safety and access to training that will give these jobs and the folks who do them the respect they deserve.”

In a message to ESP in support of the bill, NEA President Becky Pringle said: “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!”

Aveiro Statement on education support personnel

AFT and NEA were well represented among the 70 participants to the 2nd EI Education Support Personnel (ESP) Conference, held from 17th-18th May 2023 in Aveiro, Portugal, which adopted a strong statement urging governments to increase funding in education systems and to invest in trained and qualified ESP that have good working conditions, to ensure quality education for all.

For EI and its affiliates, ESP are vital to the delivery of quality education and to ensuring a safe and positive learning environment. They must be recognized for their work in the education community and enjoy the same status, rights, and conditions as other education personnel with similar academic and technical qualifications and experience, as outlined in the EI Declaration on the Rights and Status of Education Support Personnel.

ESP must also be guaranteed the right to a safe and healthy work environment, professional support and guidance as well as possibilities for career development. As education professionals, they must be able to contribute to and participate in decision-making in their educational institutions, particularly on issues directly affecting their jobs.

“This is why on the 16th of May 2018 we introduced and celebrated the first World Education Support Personnel Day. Every year, we mark this day to highlight and raise awareness of the critical role of education support personnel in the provision of quality education across the world,” EI General Secretary David Edwards said.