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Education support professionals get spotlight from Secretary of Education

Duncan dons chef’s hat and serves up a hot lunch for Virginia students


ALEXANDRIA, VA - November 18, 2009 -

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan rolled up his sleeves and donned a chef’s hat today to serve lunch to hundreds of students at Alexandria’s John Adams Elementary School. The event honored education support professionals as part of the 88th celebration of the National Education Association’s American Education Week.

The Secretary took on the new job to pay tribute to America’s nearly 3 million education support professionals who comprise 43 percent of the school workforce. There are nine types of education support professionals, more commonly known as ESPs, who work ‘behind the scenes’ at our public schools.  From bus drivers, to classroom aides, to the people who feed our children, ESPs keep schools clean and safe and our children healthy and happy.

“Without education support professionals, the doors wouldn’t open, the bells wouldn’t ring, the heat wouldn’t work, the lights wouldn’t shine and the phones wouldn’t be answered,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.  “Without this dedicated staff, education in America’s public schools would come to a screeching halt, and the school doors would be closed—drastically limiting a student’s options in life.”

As state budgets are stretched to the limits and schools scramble to keep the school doors open, a large sector of the public schools' workforce isn’t sharing the benefits of the federal stimulus money.  In Las Vegas, a staggering 550 education support professional jobs have been slashed due to budget cuts this fall.  In the small town of Donna, Texas, 139 full-time support positions were cut, and the hours of hundreds more staff were reduced.  Elsewhere, privatization threatens ESP jobs—especially in the food service category—where low-waged workers are already struggling to make ends meet.

Education support professionals include custodians, security professionals, cafeteria workers, paraeducators, office assistants and technicians. More than 75 percent of ESPs are charged with ensuring student and staff safety.  On average, they have more than a decade of experience and work more than 40 hours a week, yet earn less than $25,000 a year. In addition, a recent NEA survey of its ESP members shows:

  • Eighty percent (80%) work full time;
  • Seventy-two percent (72%) work in a school building;
  • Forty-three percent (43%) work in a preschool, kindergarten or elementary school;
  • Sixty percent (60%) live in a small town or rural area;
  • Seventy-two percent (72%) are female; and
  • The average age is 45 years old.

Education Support Professionals Day is part of NEA’s 88th annual American Education Week celebration, taking place this year November 15—21. Education Support Professionals Day was first celebrated in 1987 after NEA’s Representative Assembly, the Association’s annual conference of nearly 10,000 member delegates, called for the creation of a way to honor contributions of all school support staff.  It is observed on Wednesday during American Education Week.

“These are the professionals who have risen before dawn to drive children to school—safely and on time,” said Van Roekel.  “They have stood in hot kitchens to prepare nutritious meals for the students so they have the strength to learn. They are the ones who have kept the schools safe and clean, and counseled students when they were sad or confused.  We need to both honor and celebrate what education support professionals do every day to make public schools great.”

American Education Week’s tagline, Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility, represents NEA’s vision of making public schools great for every student and the shared responsibility of all Americans to provide students with quality public schools. NEA is encouraging everyone to get involved by participating in a local event, volunteering in afterschool programs, attending a school activity, or organizing events.  More information is available at www.nea.org/aew.

For high resolution photos from today’s event, please contact NEA Public Relations at (202) 822-7823 or newsdeadline@nea.org

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing
3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Staci Maiers  (202) 822-7823, smaiers@nea.org