Lawmakers seek to raise national profile of ESPs


by Brian Washington/Photo by David Humber

More lawmakers have agreed to co-sponsor bills on Capitol Hill to elevate the profile of education support professionals (ESPs) and the work they do to help our children succeed in public schools across the country.

A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 1704) sponsored by U.S. Representative Lynn Woolsey (CA) would create a National Classified School Employee of the Year Award. The bill has bipartisan support and 90 co-sponsors, including 12 Republicans.

The companion bill in the U.S. Senate is sponsored by Senator Patty Murray (WA) and also has bipartisan support with 14 co-sponsors, including 2 Republican Senators.

Under both bills, the U.S. Department of Education would run the award program, which would put a national spotlight on ESPs who provide outstanding service to students in our public schools.

A similar bill was approved by the House in 2010 but, at the time, failed to advance in the U.S. Senate.

ESPs—including para-educators, clerical assistants, school bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, technicians, school nurses, and security professionals—provide essential services to America’s public schools and institutions of higher education. ESPs make up about four out of every 10 public school employees.

Fifty-nine percent of NEA members who are ESPs and work with K-12 students say they’ve witnessed bullying behavior, and, of that group, 89 percent of these valued employees say they have intervened or tried to stop it. Meanwhile, 55 percent say they’ve witnessed school violence while 85 percent of these same respondents say they have intervened or tried to stop it.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel with 2012 ESP of the Year Judy Near

Legislation to establish a National Classified School Employee of the Year Award should not be confused with the NEA ESP of the Year Award—which this year was awarded to Judy Near of Colorado during the NEA ESP Conference in Memphis, Tennessee.

As ESP of the year, Near, a health technician and attendance clerk at Skyline Elementary School in Canon City, will travel to national, state, and regional conferences promoting the work and importance of ESPs in our public schools. She was also awarded a $10,000 check by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

“I did not get here alone,” said Near. “There are so many people who should be standing up here with me.”

Congress needs to act immediately to provide long overdue national recognition for the outstanding contributions of ESPs like Near and others who serve our children every day. Email your lawmakers and urge them to support the National Classified School Employee of the Year Award!

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