Recently, I wrote about an incredibly important group of educators working in our schools: paraeducators.
Unfortunately, this group is paid at a lower rate than teachers and school principals. In public education, pay is only one factor in total compensation. So, you may be wondering: Do paraprofessionals get benefits that compensate for the low wage?
Do Paraprofessionals Get Benefits?
Yes, in many cases paraprofessionals DO get benefits. Since public education benefit packages are usually solid, this is one reason that paraeducator jobs make great starting positions. They’re also ideal for individuals who only want to work part time.
Let’s look in greater detail.
Check Your Individual District
First, it is important to realize that benefits, and their availability, will vary by agency. While in most cases paraprofessionals do receive benefits, you should not assume this to be true for every employer. The level of benefits will also vary.
Check the school district, or education agency, you are going to work for to determine if paraprofessional employees receive benefits.
If they do not – that’s an easy (if unfortunate) answer. If the answer is yes, look closely at how benefits are determined. Paraeducators may receive all benefits or tiers of benefits determined by hours worked or status (temporary, probationary, permanent, etc.)
Understanding the different ways benefits are determined is important so you can ask the right questions.
I’ve worked in several school districts. In most, paraprofessionals received 100% of the benefits available to other employee groups. Those benefits were pro-rated by work hours, but all employees had access to the same benefits.
In one of the districts, paraeducators did not receive medical benefits if they worked less than 30 hours a week. So, while it would be accurate to say that paraprofessionals get benefits from that district, it is important to understand what is required.
Status / Timing
In some districts, paraprofessionals get benefits only after working a certain amount of time or achieving a certain type of employment.
For example, new paraprofessionals may be labelled as temporary or probationary and not receive the full slate of benefits. After 90 days (as an example), a new paraeducator may become a permanent employee and receive full access to leave and other benefits.
Again, the specifics will depend on your employer. Ask the human resources department about specific thresholds or requirements to receive benefits.
Here are the common benefits paraprofessionals receive:
Most paraprofessionals have access to leave benefits. Many states require sick leave, and most school districts offer it even in states where not required.
Other types of leave include:
- Personal time off
- Family sick leave
- Military leave
- Legal leaves (jury / court appearance)
The amount of leave you receive varies by employer and will often be prorated to your work calendar and hours.
Paraprofessionals may get paid holidays as designated by the district.
Access to employer health insurance is a big benefit for many paraprofessionals. In some cases, the health insurance benefits exceeds the wage they receive. I’ve known many paraprofessionals who work part-time simply to receive this benefit.
Health insurance may be prorated by work schedule and paraprofessional options may be different than those from other employee groups. Ask district human resources for details on your plans and cost.
Another excellent benefit for paraprofessionals is access to a pension plan. In most states, paraeducators and other district employees have access to the same pension plan as teachers and administrators.
While pension benefits continue to change and be broken into new tiers for new employees, access to a pension can be a huge financial win.
Most pensions have vesting periods. Be aware that while you may have access, you likely have to work for a set period of time in order to be eligible.
As public employees, most paraeducators will also receive access to their employer provided 403b plans. In some districts, these plans only include fee bloated options and should be avoided. However, in others this can be a significant benefit for a paraeducator who has the ability to contribute. This is, of course, more challenging on the typically lower wages paraprofessionals receive.
The 457b deferred compensation plans are less common for paraprofessionals, but may still be available in some school districts.
If you have access to both, review 403b vs 457 to determine which is best for you.
Education / Professional Development
Education and professional development benefits are often overlooked but can be incredibly powerful for paraprofessionals looking to climb the career ladder.
Many districts have implemented grow your own teacher programs that allow a paraeducator to earn money, receive discounted or free tuition, and have a guaranteed teaching position upon completion.
That’s a potentially huge opportunity! Had I started as a paraeducator and followed that path, I’d have saved almost $100,000 in costs and lost wages. This would be especially valuable for someone already supporting a family and trying to enter education as a profession.
Even if there isn’t a full grow your own program, many districts offer college tuition programs or paid professional development that would allow you to increase your skills and acquire additional certifications.
Organizations Representing Paraprofessionals
Most paraprofessional benefits are determined by labor contracts or employment agreements. In my experience, represented paraprofessionals have significantly greater benefits than unrepresented.
As a resource, I thought I’d share these national organizations that represent paraprofessionals:
American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – The name is misleading, but this teachers’ union also has chapters that represent paraprofessionals.
National Education Association (NEA) – Another organization that is primarily thought of as a teachers’ union, but does represent many paraprofessionals.
American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – Represents a broad cross section of public employees, including some paraprofessionals.
<State Name> School Employees Associations (e.g. CSEA): These groups often represent non-licensed school employees, including education paraprofessionals.
Summary: Do Paraprofessionals Get Benefits?
Although the pay is low, many paraprofessionals do get benefits. These benefits can make a paraprofessional position a great entry-level job, or part time work.
Paraprofessionals may receive a pension, health benefits, leave, access to retirement accounts like 403b and 457b, and education credits.
You have to check each individual school district to see what benefits, if any, a paraprofessional may receive. Sometimes benefits, particularly leave and health insurance, are prorated based on the hours you work.
Paraeducators are an important group in our schools, that often receive low wages. In many cases, the benefits paraprofessionals get exceed the wages in value.