Too often, the hard work and contributions of paraprofessionals and other school support staff go unrecognized. These staff members support students every day, keeping them healthy, safe, engaged and challenged so they can learn to their fullest potential. The AFT has worked hard to lift the voices of our classified members, and as a result, our union just won a victory in Washington.
Last month, our union asked members to contact Congress in support of the RISE Act, or Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act, H.R. 276, to help classified public school employees who work with preK-12 students get the appreciation they deserve. Because of our members’ activism, the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The new law directs the U.S. secretary of education to establish national awards through the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) program to acknowledge the excellence exhibited by public school paraprofessionals and school-related personnel. It is the first federal award of its kind.
“What’s amazing about the passage of the RISE Act is that, in an era of deep political division, this bipartisan bill passed in the Senate unanimously,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “As a union, we’ve lobbied members of Congress and explained to them how important classified school staff are. This is the culmination of a tremendous effort by our members and leaders to raise the profile of some of the hardest-working people in our schools.”
The RISE Act defines classified school employees as paraprofessionals, clerks and administrative employees, transportation workers, food and nutrition personnel, custodians and maintenance specialists, security officers, health assistants, technical workers and skilled trades people. Nominees from each state will demonstrate excellence in their work, school and community involvement, leadership and commitment, local support, and enhancement of PSRPs’ image at school and in their community.
Sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), the new law will celebrate school support employees as the unsung heroes—the “living infrastructure”—of America’s public schools. Although they may often seem “invisible,” their work reminds us that it takes a team to run a school.
Every year, the U.S. education secretary will solicit nominations of classified school employees from the governor of each state through Nov. 1. Governors will consider nominations submitted by school districts, unions and other professional associations, administrators, parents, students and others. By May 31, the secretary will pick a classified school employee to receive that year’s award.
The AFT will be monitoring how the application process is developed, advocating for the program to be widely publicized, educating governors, school districts, parents and the public about the award, and seeking out our own worthy nominees among inspiring local PSRPs.
“Anyone who works in a school will tell you that non-teaching staff are essential to the work we do,” Weingarten says. “Through the RISE awards, we can show our appreciation for these workers and highlight how important their work is to our students and schools.”
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