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Congress Must Support Paras’ Growth and Development

Thirteen years ago, the ESEA — known in its current form as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — put in place qualification requirements for paraprofessionals working in Title I schools. The effect of those requirements has been to help close a chapter when school systems hired paraprofessionals “with little or no experience or education background, and provided no professional training,” AFT President Randi Weingarten and Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson (pictured, right, with former AFT Connecticut Vice-President Phyllis Kornfeld, left, in 1983) earlier this week reminded U.S. Senate leaders. 
Before those requirements became law, paraprofessionals “were often assigned classroom tasks for which, through no fault of their own, they were neither prepared nor equipped,” Weingarten and Johnson wrote earlier this week in a letter to leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. 
Click here to read union leaders’ letter.
“Today, because of the [ESEA] requirements put in place, paraprofessionals are qualified and prepared to provide needed instructional support,” Weingarten and Johnson wrote, pointing to examples of local schools where these provisions are contributing to better student outcomes. 
They continued, “the ESEA discussion draft currently being considered by your committee would roll back the qualification requirements for paraprofessionals working in Title I schools” and allow only state certification and licensure requirements to hold sway — if such provisions exist at all.
“Many states never implemented their own standards” because there are federal standards for Title I school professionals whose positions were funded under ESEA, the AFT leaders warned. “Having ESEA-established standards for employment, training and responsibilities ensures consistency in the qualifications and deployment of paraprofessionals across states and grade levels, and ensures that districts hire qualified individuals to work as paraprofessionals and provide the necessary support they need to guarantee students success.”
Union leaders delivered their letter the same day the panel heard testimony on the topic of ESEA and its support for educators.
Click here to watch the full HELP Committee hearing.
Members of AFT Connecticut-affiliated unions who work as paraprofessionals are urged to weigh-in on this important issue. Congressional leaders need to know that kids do better with consistency in their learning environment and that standards can help ensure consistency in the qualifications of school support personnel.
Click here to download a template letter that can be personalized and sent to the U.S. Senate HELP committee’s leadership. 
Click here to send a message to the chair of the committee urging him not to let Congress roll-back professionalism for paras.
Lawmakers need to hear from union members by Monday, February 2 so they act to preserve the training and support that paraprofessionals need to provide all students a quality classroom and learning experience.

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