Education Funding

How Much Do School Support Staff Make in Each State? (Spoiler: It’s Not a Living Wage)

By Madeline Will — May 02, 2023 3 min read
Brian Hess, head custodian at the Washburn Elementary School in Auburn, Maine, strips the cafeteria floors in preparation for waxing on Aug. 17, 2021.
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The national average salary for a full-time education support professional in a K-12 school is just $33,177—but many make far less.

The National Education Association recently released its annual report analyzing how much school support staff—paraprofessionals, clerical workers, and custodians, to name a few—make in each state.

The nation’s largest teachers’ union, which represents about a half-million of these workers, found that, once again, there’s no state in the country where a school support worker earns enough, on average, to support themselves and one child while living in the state’s most affordable metropolitan area.

There are 2.2 million education support professionals working in K-12 public schools, compared to about 3.2 million classroom teachers. These workers—who are, on average, more racially diverse than the teacher workforce—keep schools running and students learning, and they’re often viewed as a potential source of future teachers. Many of them are essential to providing legally required services to students, especially those with an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, under federal law.

About 80 percent of K-12 support staff work full time, which is defined by the NEA as 30 or more hours per week. More than half work 40 or more hours a week.

Yet nearly 40 percent of those full-time workers earn less than $25,000, and 13 percent earn less than $15,000. And their salaries have not kept up with inflation, the analysis found—overall, support staff in both K-12 and higher education are making on average $2,361 less than they did a decade ago, when adjusted for inflation.

Another challenge: About one-fifth of pre-K-12 education support professionals don’t have a full-year contract and are out of work in the summer, according to the NEA. School workers generally are not eligible for unemployment benefits during the summer since they have a “reasonable assurance” of returning to work in the fall.

In Minnesota, lawmakers are currently considering adding hourly school workers to the unemployment insurance system so they can collect those benefits during the summer.

“School workers should not be asked to go from financial crisis to financial crisis,” said Cat Briggs, a bus driver for the Rosemount Apple Valley-Eagen Schools, according to KARE 11 News. “We deserve the same benefit everyone else gets.”

The NEA recently surveyed its support staff members and found that nearly a third said making a living wage was a serious challenge, and another 21 percent said it was a moderate problem for them. More than a quarter said they use government assistance programs.

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Angela Alfaro, a paraprofessional at Pascual LeDoux Academy, works on counting with a student on Thursday, June 2, 2022 at Pascual LeDoux Academy in Denver.
Angela Alfaro, a paraprofessional, works on counting with a student at Pascual LeDoux Academy in Denver.
Rachel Woolf for Education Week

In a handful of school districts across the country this year, education support workers have gone on strike for more pay and better working conditions. Notably, the support staff in the Los Angeles Unified school district went on strike for three days in March. They were joined by teachers in solidarity, which forced the nation’s second-largest school district to close schools.

The support-staff union ultimately secured salary increases, a cash bonus, and investments in professional development.

See how much education support professionals make in each state

The NEA report used earning data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The data reflects salaries in the 2021-22 school year.

The District of Columbia, Delaware, Alaska, and New Jersey were the only places where the average K-12 education support professional made more than $40,000.

In Mississippi, Oklahoma, Idaho, Kentucky, Kansas, Tennessee, and New Mexico, the average K-12 educational support professional made less than $28,000.

The NEA also recently released a state-by-state ranking of teacher pay. The national average teacher salary for the 2022-23 school year is $68,469.

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