School support staff do not earn a living wage. Here is a comparison by state

According to a new analysis, there is 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 themselves and those of a child while living in the most affordable metropolitan area in the state.

In addition to this year’s teacher salary rankings, the National Education Association has released data on the salary of school support staff in every state. The nation’s largest teachers’ union, which represents about half a million education support professionals, analyzed federal data to provide a picture of all support staff working in public schools. Nearly 2.2 million education support professionals work in public K-12 schools, compared to about 3.2 million teachers.

Education support professionals are known as the backbone of schools for their work supporting classroom learning and keeping school operations functional. Many of them work directly with students, especially those with disabilities. Yet many of these workers are not earning a living wage, according to this analysis.

According to NEA data, the largest share of K-12 education support professionals – 39% – are paraprofessionals, followed by clerical workers (16%), custodial (nearly 16%), catering and service staff (11.5%) and transport workers (9%). Technical personnel (such as computer operators or public relations specialists), skilled workers (such as electricians or HVAC specialists), health and student services workers, and school security represent smaller shares of the workforce.

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

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 have no college degree and about 12% have an associate’s degree. These school workers — who are, on average, more racially diverse than teaching staff — are increasingly seen as a potential pool of future teachers. Many states and districts have launched pipeline programs for paraprofessionals and other staff to earn college degrees and become teachers while working in schools.

Yet the NEA has warned that as teachers’ salariessalaries for 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 earn a living wage and found that, on average, these staff would not be able to live in a metropolitan area and support themselves and a 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 wage and this measure of living wage is more than $25,000.

Michael A. Bynum