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Who We Are: Education Support Professionals – ESPs

Who We Are: Education Support Professionals – ESPs

More than four out of every 10 public school employees are education support professionals (ESPs) who work together with teachers and administrators to help ensure the basic right of every child to attend great public schools.

Education support professionals perform a variety of jobs that promote quality education, foster positive learning environments, provide nutritious meals, and maintain safe and clean schools for all students. ESP job families include:

Para educators Instructional and non-instructional support
Clerical Services Secretarial, clerical, and administrative support
Custodial and
Maintenance Services
Building and grounds maintenance and repair
Transportation and delivery services and vehicle maintenance
Food Services Food planning, preparation, and services
Skilled Trades Trades, crafts, and machine operations
Health and
Student Services
Nursing, health, and therapy support; community, family, parent, and welfare services
Security Services School resource, guard, police, and security specialists
Technical Services Computer, audiovisual, and language technical support; media, public relations, writing, and art specialties

How NCAE Membership Supports Education Support Professionals

NCAE helps Education Support Professionals to:

  • Organize to win better pay benefits, and working conditions
  • Earn no less than a living wage
  • Have effective employment-related Representation
  • Ensure safe and clean schools
  • Advocate for quality professional development Opportunities
  • Develop effective local, state, and national Leadership
  • Promote quality public education and public school employees at the state legislature
  • Defend against privatization and subcontracting of work to private, for-profit companies
  • Stay informed through print and online media
  • Gain access to exclusive member-only financial service and insurance benefits
  • Receive on-the-job liability insurance

What is privatization?

For many ESP members, privatization is another word for FIRED! Privatization, or “contracting out,” is part of a broad campaign that seeks to transfer many parts of our community life, including the delivery of education services, into the hands of private, for-profit corporations. In many ways, the pushes for school vouchers and charter schools are parts of this same movement. While all of education is targeted by the privateers, ESP jobs are particularly at risk. Privatization is a threat to public education.

ESP privatization today

The current deep recession has created huge budget deficits for state and local governments, and widespread layoffs across the county. Governments are looking to privatize in the belief that this will create short-term cost savings. There has been an upsurge across the country of attempts to privatize ESP jobs. While most of the attention has been on the traditionally, contracted-out job categories of transportation, custodial, and food services, no ESP jobs are safe. Fortunately, privatization still remains the exception, not the rule, and most school districts continue to recognize that the needs of their students are best met by a skilled, committed, and experienced ESP workforce.

You can’t get the same for less

Although private contractors nearly always promise cost savings, these savings are often illusory. Bids often do not take into account all the costs involved, and contractors may “low-ball” initial bids to win a contract, with costs rising significantly as time goes on. And there is more to the work of ESP than just costs, and much more at stake when jobs are contracted out – the quality of education and even the safety of our children can be at risk! Private contractors may bring in strangers from outside the community with no connection to the students and families they serve, and cost-cutting can threaten student and employee health and safety.

More than 77% of ESPs live within their school district. On average, they have been employed more than 12 years. 82% plan to stay in their profession, and 67% plan to stay with their current jobs until they retire. 61% give money out of their own pockets to help students with things such as classroom materials, field trips, and class projects. ESPs know the students and their families, and are committed to their communities. They are essential members of a unified education workforce that educates the whole child.

In short, you can’t get the same for less. Privatization = a cut in services for the school, a cut in benefits and wages for employees, and a risk to safety for students and families.

How we can fight privatization

Privatization is a bad idea, and it can and should be stopped in its tracks. Defeating privatization begins with educating the 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. NCAE, through the 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.



Caldwell County

Caldwell County Schools’ custodians, through information and support from the Caldwell County Association of Educators, NCAE, and NEA were able to successfully prevent their positions from being privatized and contracted out to several second party vendors who were in the bidding process with the school district. The Caldwell County Association’s Local President organized her association members and stood with ESP members to express their support during their School Board meeting to convince the Caldwell County School Board that privatizing ESP positions was not good for Caldwell County Schools!

Gaston County

In 2010, the Gaston County Unit of NCAE prevented Gaston County Schools from taking away 10 workdays from all teacher assistants (TAs) which would have resulted in less pay.

Gaston County Unit, Teacher Assistant NCAE members organized and were placed accurately on the salary schedule.

NCAE successfully orchestrated TAs to work hours assigned by the school district and not two additional hours as assigned by “other” interested parties.

By contacting her NCAE representative, a bus driver/custodian ESP member successfully reversed her dismissal, maintained her job, and full-time employment status after revealing her principal and bus supervisor fabricated information on her evaluation.

Gaston County Unit NCAE bus driver was reinstated after being suspended for “holding” a first grader in his seat while fastening the seatbelt.

Guilford County

The Guilford County Association of Educators successfully convinced the School Board to not renew their contract with Sedexo, Inc. and continue privatizing their child nutrition and custodial positions in Guilford County Schools. ESPs protested, rallied, and equipped themselves with relevant information and data in order to present their concerns to their local school board and defeat the privatization effort in the school district.


Forsyth County

The Forsyth County Association of Educators (FCAE) discovered that some TAs were not placed on the salary schedule correctly. After bringing this discovery to the attention of School District Administrators, the school district paid an approximate total of $500,000 to 170 TAs in order to correct the school district’s error and placed EVERY Teacher Assistant on their correct salary step!

FCAE sent the Chief Financial Officer of the Winston-Salem Forsythe County Schools a copy of the district’s bonus policy, and expressed to school district administrators that it was against their policy to cut the perfect attendance bonus from $250 to $200. As a result, school bus drivers received their full bonus.

As a result of FCAE leadership and NCAE staff getting involved, a bus driver/FCAE ESP member was placed back to work after being falsely accused of inappropriate behavior with a student. During this time, the bus driver was investigated internally by the school district and by local police, and found to have done no wrong. However, it was only after the FCAE/NCAE insisted that the bus driver was given his job back with back pay for the time he was suspended during the investigation!


A bus driver/CMAE ESP member who had been working in CMS for 35 years was suspended for having a misunderstanding with her Bus Supervisor. The past practice between this bus driver and her supervisor was to communicate over the phone whenever the supervisor had any questions or concerns. When the bus driver learned that her supervisor wanted to meet with her, the bus driver called him instead, discussed her supervisor’s concern, and assumed everything had been resolved. The bus driver was shocked to learn she had later been suspended 9 days pending an investigation for “insubordination” because she failed to meet face-to-face with the Bus Supervisor. After speaking with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators Leadership (CMAE) and NCAE staff, the bus driver was able to clear up the misunderstanding and only served 3 days of her suspension.

A Bus Supervisor for CMS was put on notice and received a letter in his file, when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators (CMAE) learned of a bus driver who was subjected to harassing, unprofessional, bullying conversations about her over the radio by office personnel at the CMS Transportation Center. The bus driver, who is also a CMAE/NCAE member contacted CMAE and was successful in getting the harassment and bullying behavior to stop.

Wake County

Because of the multiple and varying employment schedules of ESP members, the Wake NCAE Leadership scheduled meetings on the 2nd Wednesday of each month dubbed “Second Time Around” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Members discussed and addressed specific concerns that impacted classified employees. Topics such as bus discipline, safety, and issues regarding training for bus and cab monitors were also discussed which resulted in the direct involvement of Wake County Schools Transportation Officials and the Superintendent of schools. As a result of this collaboration, members were:

  • Educated on school board policies and procedures.
  • Able to ask questions and receive answers that impacted their job security.
  • Informed on how to address concerns with their immediate supervisors.


Professional Development Opportunities – The “short list”

Educator Rights Workshop for School Bus Drivers (How to Protect Yourself; What To Do When Problems Occur)

How to Communicate With Your Assigned Teacher

Establishing Working Relationships

Conflict Management

Legal Rights and Responsibilities (National, State, and Local)

The Difference Between a Gripe and a Grievance

Stress Management

NCAE Emerging Leaders

NCAE Summer Leaders

NEA ESP Leaders for Tomorrow

NEA Leaders for Tomorrow program is a three-session training process held over an eight-month period that is open to dues paying NCAE/NEA ESP members who meet the program’s eligibility requirements. Candidates must be nominated for the program and have their application acknowledged and signed by their state Association.

NEA ESP Leaders for Tomorrow Eligibility Requirements

  • Must be a current NEA ESP member
  • Must have been an NEA member in good standing for the past three years
  • Must complete an application form and submit by the deadline
  • Must commit to participate fully in all three sessions
  • Must commit to utilize the new skills in the Association

Why Leaders for Tomorrow?

Leaders for Tomorrow trains both current and future ESP leaders in leadership attitudes, skills, and knowledge that will enhance their ability to be visible, vocal advocates at the local, state, and national levels of the NEA.

What will I learn?

The program is broken into eleven modules: Self-Awareness and Self-Management, Risk Taking and Change, Assertiveness, Communication, Resilience and Coping Skills, Political Activism, NEA Governance and Structure, Presentation Skills, Organizing, and Effective Meeting Skills. Participants in the program will:

  • Identify personal strengths and weaknesses and learn how to utilize them as a leader
  • Build skills in areas such as communication skills, organizing and recruitment, team building, and presentation skills
  • Learn how to use the structure, resources, culture, and work of NEA effectively as a leader
  • Learn how to engage members in politics
  • Learn the history and importance of the Association
  • Learn how to run an effective meeting
  • Learn how to use the art of powerful questions
  • Identify their risk taking style and the risks leaders face
  • Learn internal and external organizing skills
  • Learn how to communicate effectively and how to make a presentation.