woman reading a book to the children
Education Support Professionals are working to lift their pay to achieve a living wage as defined by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Living Wage Calculator, which shows workers require a minimum of $45,000 to get by.; photo by Yan Krukau on Pexels.com

MA public school support staff fight for a living wage

Lawmakers in Massachusetts are considering legislation to ensure Education Support Professionals in public schools earn a living wage.

ESP’s do it all – teach, help students with special needs, clean classrooms and more. The bill would set a statewide salary of $45,000 for these workers.

Former Massachusetts ESP of the Year Joni Cederholm of Weymouth said it would change thousands of lives. After more than 25 years working, she brings home just $300 a week.

“We get poverty pay. We are in the poverty line,” said Cederholm. “We’re not even making enough money to live in our own communities where our own children go.”

Cederholm said ESPs are taking on larger roles in students’ social-emotional and academic learning, as well as discipline. She added too often, low pay is forcing educators to leave the profession and the students they care for.

Support staff across the Commonwealth have created a “Bill of Rights” to help them organize for better pay and benefits.

Organizers say ESPs in some districts often receive $0 paychecks due to the high cost of health insurance, while others take on additional jobs or visit food banks to survive.

Cederholm said an increase in pay is the only way to retain quality educators and improve public schools.

“One job should be enough,” said Cederholm. “We shouldn’t have to work three jobs and go to work exhausted in order to get ready for the next day to do two more jobs to live in our communities.”

U.S Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., has also introduced legislation to provide living wages and benefits for ESPs, bus drivers, custodial workers, and others who help keep schools running.

Cederholm said she hopes parents will get a better understanding of the value these people bring to their child’s learning experience – and support their campaign for better pay.

by Kathryn Carley, Commonwealth News Service

Kathryn Carley began her career in community radio, and is happy to be back, covering the New England region for Public News Service. Getting her start at KFAI in Minneapolis, Carley graduated from the University of Minnesota and then worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, focusing on energy and agriculture. Moving to Washington, D.C., she filed stories for The Pacifica Network News and The Pacifica Report. Later, Carley worked as News Host for New York Public Radio, WNYC as well as Co-Anchor for Newsweek’s long running radio program, Newsweek on Air. Carley also served as News Anchor for New York Times Radio. She now lives near Boston, MA.

Languages Spoken: English

Topic Expertise: education, environment, nuclear energy

Local Expertise: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, New York City, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Demographic Expertise: public schools, families, children, nutrition

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