Skip Navigation
We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, provide ads, analyze site traffic, and personalize content. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.
NEA News

‘We Must Do Better’: School Support Staff Still Earn Below Living Wage

According to NEA reports, 38 percent of ESPs working in K–12 schools earn less than $25,000, and 12.5 percent earn less than $15,000.
schoolbus driver
Published: April 30, 2024

Key Takeaways

  1. A recent NEA survey found that 53 percent of K‐12 education support professionals (ESP) said they were having a serious or moderate problem making a living wage.
  2. A new NEA report provides earnings data for support professionals working in K–12 schools and higher education institutions. According to the report, among ESPs working full‐time, the average earnings in 2022‐23 was $35,995.
  3. In states with collective bargaining, support professionals earn 16 percent more than their counterparts in states where bargaining is prohibited.

Too many school support professionals, like classroom teachers, endure a lack of respect, lack of support, and poor working conditions. They are also egregiously underpaid. 

These factors are driving the chronic staff shortages in school districts and on college campuses across the nation, which have hit the ranks of education support professionals (ESPs) who include school bus drivers, food service professionals, paraeducators, campus security staff, custodial and maintenance staff and more, especially hard.

School support staff, who make up more than one-third of all public school employees, are essential members of the education workforce. Instead of being rewarded or their dedication, NEA President Becky Pringle said, “they have persevered despite low pay, and staffing and supply shortages that have made it increasingly difficult for them to provide the necessary supports our students need and deserve.”  

In a recent NEA survey of its members, 32 percent of K‐12 ESPs said they were having a significant issue making a living wage, with another 21 percent calling it a moderate problem. Furthermore, more than a quarter reported participating in or utilizing assistance programs, such as free grocery or free meal programs, Medicaid, and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. 

Section with embed

Just how out-of-reach a livable wage is for many of the 3 million support professionals who work in public education (K-12 and higher education) is highlighted in the just-released 2024 NEA Education Support Professionals Earnings report.    

According to the report, 33 percent of all ESPs working full‐time earn less than $25,000 per year, and 11 percent earn less than $15,000. Among those working in K–12 schools, 38 percent earn less than $25,000, and 12.5 percent earn less than $15,000. Within higher education, 14.0 percent earn less than $25,000, and 6.4 percent earn less than $15,000. 

Among ESPs who work full-time in K-12 schools, the average salary in 2022-23 was $33,756. Overall, the average earning (including ESPS in higher education) was $35,995, an increase of almost $4,800 since 2014. But factoring in inflation, that amount drops to $28,149 in 2014 dollars. 

Nelly Henjes in Pinellas County, Florida says inflation has made her district unaffordable for too many support professionals. A child development assistant and president of the Pinellas County Educational Support Professionals Association, Henjes says many ESPs simply cannot afford to live anywhere close to where they work. 

“You can’t when you make somewhere in between $22,000 and $25,000, not with the cost-of-living increasing as it has over the past few years,” Henjes says. 

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in Alaska, says Susanna Litwiniak, head secretary at Moose Pass School and president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, is constantly scrambling to fill vacant positions due to low pay.

“We've had schools that have gone without custodians for months at a time,” Litwiniak recently told NEA Today. “And you've got teachers filling in, secretaries filling in. Staff have helped in the lunchroom because there aren’t enough food service workers.” 

Educator Pay in Your State