Paraeducators demand respect and higher pay from lawmakers

On Monday, educators who help our state's most vulnerable students rallied outside the Capitol, demanding respect and higher pay.

More than a hundred paraeducators and paraprofessionals spent their President’s Day Holiday working to bring change.

Paraeducators are the ones who work alongside students with special educational needs or who struggle due to language barriers. Paraprofessionals are hourly employees like bus drivers, lunchroom workers, and office staff.

These school employees say their request is simple, respect and higher pay. Unfortunately, meeting those demands is seemingly more difficult.

Officials with the Washington Education Association (WEA) tell FOX 13 News the two laws that looked to raise paraeducator pay, House Bill 2380 and Senate Bill 6082, have stalled this year.

The hope now is that lawmakers will hear their demands and add more funding to the education budget.

According to a study from the American Institute of Research, paraeducators are leaving their jobs in Washington at an increasing rate.

The report states that in the 2008-2009 school year, 8% of paraeducators quit, retired, or got fired. In the 2021-2022 school year, the number jumped to 23%.

Paraeducators say it is not hard to see why workers are leaving their roles.

"For the first seven years of my career, I was a single mom of three kids. I had to work two and three jobs and get financial help from my mom just to make ends meet. My own children suffered, and I was exhausted,’ said Kari Madden, the president of the Tacoma Federation of Education Support Professionals.

Officials with WEA say paraprofessionals can make more money going to work at retail stores.

"We must do better as a state, and we must look at the data that tells us the average para is making, what, $30,000 a year," said April Berg, House Representative for the 44th District.

Officials with WEA said paraprofessionals did more than just rally on the steps. Several met with lawmakers one-on-one, and the WEA president even spoke during the education budget hearings.

"Our students deserve our best, and paraeducators deserve a living wage and respect in order to do that," Madden said.