The Support Staff in Pennsylvania’s Public Schools Deserve a Living Wage

It is deeply troubling when I meet with support staff across the state and hear how difficult it is for many of them to make ends meet.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

I’ve spent nearly 25 years working as an instructional paraprofessional with kids in the State College Area School District, and it is the hardest job I ever had.

I have no complaints. It is my dream job, working with kids.

Today I am proud to be one of thousands of hardworking support staff in our public schools. Our work is essential to the success of Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million public school students.

So it is deeply troubling when I meet with support staff across Pennsylvania and hear how difficult it is for many of them to make ends meet.

In too many places, support staff positions do not pay living wages. That is making it harder for these folks to pay their bills and put food on the table. Sadly, it is driving many longtime support staff to make the hard decision to leave education for other better-paying jobs.

We must do better. Because this isn’t just about our support staff. It’s also about our students.

More and more school districts are finding it harder than ever to recruit qualified people to fill support staff jobs. That is contributing to staff shortages in our schools.

For example, 70% of superintendents reported a shortage of instructional aides in a recent Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) survey, and 62% reported a shortage of transportation staff.

Staff shortages put more pressure on other employees, but the students are the ones who end up losing out most.

READ: New Report Exposes the Cyber Charter School Racket in Pennsylvania

In many ways, the support staff are the lifeblood of our public schools — from the bus drivers who transport students to and from school each day to the office staff who keep things running smoothly to the paraprofessionals like me who support teachers and students in the classroom and many others. If we don’t have enough caring, qualified adults to fill these positions, it is going to cut into the success of our students.

I’m proud to represent 27,000 support staff as president of Education Support Professionals with the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA). I get to meet with support staff from all over. After hearing so many of their stories, I knew we had to take action.

PSEA is leading advocacy efforts to ensure our support staff are paid a living wage of at least $20 an hour. That’s a minimum. In some parts of the state, support staff need to earn more to have a living wage.

How does that compare to what support staff are paid now?

Last year PSEA surveyed nearly 5,800 school support staff to ask them about their earnings. More than half said that they make less than $20 an hour, and about 13% said they make less than $15 an hour.

READ: Christian Nationalists Are Closer than Ever to Getting Church-Run Public Schools

Food service employees were the lowest paid ($17.09 an hour, on average), followed by personal care assistants ($18.04) and instructional aides ($18.70).

Paying all of these professionals $20 or more an hour is achievable. It is the right thing to do for our support staff and for our students.

Recently, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed legislation that would make significant investments over the next seven years to ensure our public school funding system is constitutional. The bill specifically states that some of this new funding may be used to increase minimum wages for support staff to at least $20 per hour.

This is a great first step. I hope the state Senate will do the right thing and send this bill to the governor’s desk.

Throughout my long career as a paraprofessional and an advocate, I have had days where I feel like I’m working longer and harder than ever. But as tired as I may get, I am renewed and energized by the dedication and determination that drive our education support professionals to be there for the kids.

That’s what it’s all about — being there for the kids in the classroom — and that’s what continues to motivate me as we fight for what’s right in Harrisburg.

Support progressive, independent media.

Picture of Rudy Burruss

Rudy Burruss

Rudy Burruss is an instructional paraprofessional with the State College Area School District. Since 2021, he has served as president of the Education Support Professionals with the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).

Top 5

Follow Us

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

* indicates required

Our news. your inbox.

Once a week, we will send a digest of all our stories to your inbox.