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ESP Career Issues and Student Advocacy

Like most educators, education support professionals face various career specific issues throughout their work day. Below we have identified some of the primary issues impacting support employees and have provided tips on how to become an ESP advocate. 

Bullying Prevention

Bullying occurs in and outside of the classroom. It happens in bathrooms, hallways, school buses, outdoor common areas and the cafeteria. It also occurs in all areas of college and university campuses. These are areas where support employees work and are pesent for students.

Education support professionals are among the first line of defense in the fight against school bullying. NEA has been out in front on the issue of bullying for years. Click here for information on NEA's 2010 and 2010 bullying research findings, as well as research briefs, summaries and perspective reviews by career category.

Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment on Our Nation's School Buses

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students and the Safe and Supportive Schools Technical Assistance Center partnered with the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) to coordinate a special event on Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment on Our Nation’s School Buses. Materials from this event included resentations and two 2-hour training modules designed to educate drivers on how to deal with bullying behavior on their school buses. These modules also educate drivers on how to create a safe and supportive climate that helps prevent bullying.

Click here to access the landing page to download these materials. 

How to Advocate for ESPs and Bullying Prevention

Encourage your school and district to include support professionals in the development of comprehensive bullying prevention plans. Be sure to speak up if support professionals are not included in bullying prevention professional development opportunities. It is imperative that school districts include the whole school community when addressing issues such as bullying.

Custodial Issues

Budget pressures, aging buildings, school violence, privatization, safety and health concerns, sick buildings, indoor air quality - there are a lot of forces having an impact on school custodians. NEA's partner organization, NEA Healthy Futures, provides numerous resources that help custodians address the various issues they face daily in their career. 

Click here to learn more about custodial and maintenance issues.

How to Advocate for Custodial & Maintenance Employees

Keeping a school clean and healthy involves a lot of time and attention by school custodial and maintenance employees. Learning the most up to date techniques for things such as green cleaning, EPA standards and pest management school programs is imperative to students and staff having a clean school. Encourage your school and district to provide custodial and maintenance employees professional development during the work day on these various issues. Help them see the importance of your fellow educators staying informed with the latest techniques for keeping the school environment clean.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a national education law that funds education programs with a particular emphasis on equal opportunity for students. It is a reauthorization of the fifty year old Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The previous reauthorization, fourteen years ago, was known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB was problematic for students, schools, and educators. ESSA is a significant improvement due to its focus on giving students the resources they need for success instead of labeling schools or blaming educators for the lack of student improvement.  ESSA shifts decision-making power back to the local level and gives parents and educators meaningful input. ESSA recognizes education support professionals as educators and provides voice and opportunity for support professionals.

 Advocates can learn more about ESSA as it relates to ESP by reviewing the ESP Voice and Opportunity and ESSA Brief or by visiting the ESP Voice and Opportunity in ESSA site.

Nutrition Issues and Awareness

Having a healthy and nutritious school meal is the right of every student. Education support professionals are on the frontline in helping to address this issue that is threatening the life expectancy of our nation's youth. New standards for school meals were released in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through legislation championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. On March 2, 2015 the US Department of Agriculture issued regulations that create annual training requirements for school nutrition staff. Beginning July 1, 2015 these regulations became applicable to most education support professionals who work in school nutrition programs. The NEA ESP Quality Department has created a HHFKA Q&A Fact Sheet that contains answers to common questions about the school food service professional rules and standards.

The NEA strongly supports the nutrition guidelines of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. For more information on NEA's involvement in the nutrition initiative visit NEA's Child Nutrition area. You can also review the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 summary for information on how the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act will end childhood hunger and reduce obesity. 

Food Waste in Schools

The US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services reports that Americans waste enough food every day to fill a 90,000 seat football stadium. Research has shown that food wasted by children is similar to the rest of the U.S. population. The article Creative Solutions to Ending School Food Waste explores various ways schools can reduce food waste and teach students about the impact food waste has on the environment and their community.

Additional Resources:

USDA Food Waste Challenge

 USDA Food Waste Infographic

How to Advocate for School Nutrition Employees

New federal regulations for school nutrition programs created annual training requirements for school nutrition employees. Professional devleopment is important to ensure that school nutrition employees are kept current with the best ways to improve school nutrtion and student health and have an opportunity to improve their professional skills. Encourage your school district to pay for the cost of all manditory trainings, whether they are on-site or outside of the district. Encourge your school district to hold training sessions during the regular work day. Push school districts to provide education support professionals with certificates for each training level attained.

Additional Resources: Let's Move Initiative, Safe at School and Ready to Learn: A Comprehensive Policy Guide for Protecting Students with Life-threatening Food Allergies, School Lunch Hero Day 

Nutrition/Family, School Community Grant Resources: NEA ESP Quality Grant Resource 


Privatization threatens quality public education by severing the school-community link. While all of education is targeted by privateers, ESP careers are particularly at risk. Find out why it's a bad idea and learn what we can do to combat it. NEA's privatization area offers more on these concerns.

How to Advocate for Anti-privatization District Policies

Privatization is a bad idea, and it can and should be stopped in its tracks. Defeating privatization begins with educating school board, parents and our communities about the vital roles ESPs play in our students' educations and lives. There is no magic wand to wave - beating privatization takes hard work. NEA's ESP Quality Department has resources to help, including training sessions, materials, technical assistance for state and local Association leaders, and data on privatization incidents and contractors around the country. For more information contact Tim Barchak at NEA ESP Quality.


Attracting and retaining qualified school staff -- K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, and education support professionals (ESPs) -- requires salaries that are competitive with those in comparable professions. NEA supports a minimum salary of at least $40,000 for all teachers in our nation's public schools and at least a living wage for every education support professional. NEA also supports higher compensation for higher education faculty and staff.

For more information about living wage campaigns, and other efforts to obtain professional pay levels for all educators, go to "ESPs Deserve a Living Wage" in the Professional Pay area.

Results-Oriented Job Descriptions

Many job descriptions for educational support professionals are inaccurate, dictated without employee involvement, or nonexistent. Using the results-oriented job descriptions (ROJDs) approach can help support employees achieve recognition of the vital roles they play in meeting the needs of the whole student, build respect for their professionalism, provide career security, and equitable pay. Learn more about ROJDs in these two NEA publications:

Seat Belts, School Buses and Safety

At first blush, the question of whether seat belts should be required on school buses seems obvious. Seat belts save lives in cars, so it seems logical that they would make school buses safer. But it turns out that the question isn't so simple.

Read more about this hot issue in Seat Belts, School Buses and Safety.

How to Advocate for Transportation Service Employees

Educating the whole student includes keeping students healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. Safety begins long before students enter the school building. Transportation professionals are often the first school employees to see students in the morning and the last to see them at the end of the day. Keeping current with safety regulations, bullying prevention best practices, S endorsements and other professional skills are imperative to these professionals. Advocate for school districts to provide paid professional development to transportation employees. Encourage school sites to include transportation employees in crisis and emergency planning meetings, as well as bullying prevention professional development opportunities. Push school districts to provide paid professional development days for transportation service employees.