Recruitment & Retention

School Support Staffers Don’t Make a Living Wage. Here’s a Comparison by State

By Madeline Will — May 03, 2022 2 min read
Food service assistant Brenda Bartee, rear, gives students breakfast, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, during the first day of school at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach, Fla.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

There’s no state in the country where an education support professional—such as a paraprofessional or a school cafeteria worker—earns enough, on average, to support themself and one child while living in the state’s most affordable metropolitan area, a new analysis finds.

In addition to this year’s teacher salary rankings, the National Education Association released data for how much school support staff make in each state. The nation’s largest teachers’ union, which represents about a half-million education support professionals, analyzed federal data to provide a picture of all support staff working in public schools. There are nearly 2.2 million education support professionals working in K-12 public schools, compared to about 3.2 million classroom teachers.

Education support professionals are known as the backbone of schools for their work supporting classroom learning and maintaining the functionality of school operations. Many of them work directly with students, particularly those who have disabilities. Yet many of these workers are not making a living wage, this analysis found.

According to the NEA’s data, the largest share of K-12 education support professionals—39 percent—are paraprofessionals, followed by clerical workers (16 percent), custodial workers (almost 16 percent), food and service staff (11.5 percent), and transportation workers (9 percent). Technical staff (such as computer operators or public relations specialists), skilled trade workers (such as electricians or HVAC specialists), health and student services workers, and school security make up smaller shares of the workforce.

Almost 80 percent of K-12 education support professionals work full time, defined by the NEA as 30 or more hours per week. (About half of those employees work 40 or more hours.)

The average full-time K-12 support professional earned $32,837 in the 2020-21 school year. Delaware had the highest salary for full-time K-12 support staff ($44,738), while Idaho had the lowest ($25,830).

More than two-thirds of K-12 support staff don’t have any higher education degree, and about 12 percent have an associate degree. These school-based workers—who are, on average, more racially diverse than the teacher workforce—are increasingly being viewed as a potential pool of future teachers. Many states and districts have started pipeline programs for paraprofessionals and other staffers to earn a college degree and become a classroom teacher while still working in schools.

Yet the NEA warned that like teacher salaries, the salaries of education support professionals have not kept up with inflation—and these “persistent pay gaps” will make it difficult for schools to attract and retain these workers.

The NEA used the Economic Policy Institute’s family budget calculator to determine whether support staff make a living wage and found that on average, these employees would not be able to live in a metropolitan area and support themselves and one child without government assistance or another adult’s income.

In at least four states—Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Oregon—and the District of Columbia the gap between the average salary and this measure of a living wage is more than $25,000.

Events

Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
Mission Possible: Saving Time While Improving Student Outcomes
Learn how district leaders are maximizing instructional time and finding the best resources for student success through their MTSS framework.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Reading & Literacy K-12 Essentials Forum Writing and the Science of Reading
Join us for this free event as we highlight and discuss the intersection of reading and writing with Education Week reporters and expert guests.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Recruitment & Retention Leader To Learn From Want to Recruit Male Teachers of Color? Look to This New York City Leader
Chimere Stephens, who leads recruitment of men of color for the New York City schools, believes in starting with high school students.
9 min read
Chimere Stephens, the Director of NYC Men Teach at the NYC Department of Education, reads a book to a class of first grade students at PS 55 elementary school in the Bronx, New York., January 19, 2023.
Chimere Stephens, the director of NYC Men Teach at the NYC Department of Education, reads a book to a class of 1st grade students in January at PS 55 elementary school.
Mostafa Bassim for Education Week
Recruitment & Retention What Educators Look For in a Job (Besides Pay and Workloads)
A survey gives insight on factors that cause teachers to consider leaving or accept a job offer.
3 min read
Photo illustration of blocks representing individuals clustering around a highlighted block.
iStock/Getty images
Recruitment & Retention 4 Actions Districts and States Can Take to Increase Staff Diversity
A report offers concrete steps for districts, charter organizations, and states to boost the racial diversity of their K-12 workforce.
5 min read
Image of diverse hands in a team huddle.
melitas/iStock/Getty
Recruitment & Retention What Districts Can Do to Prevent Teachers From Quitting Mid-Year
Routine, actionable feedback and small gestures of appreciation go a long way, superintendents say
5 min read
Illustration of woman exiting room.
iStock / Getty Images Plus