The Evolution of the Educational Support Professional Advocacy Network (ESPAN)

The roots of ESPAN began to take hold back in 2015. At that time, a small group of grassroots organizers met as their concerns grew over the impact that a new statewide assessment—The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)—would have on school districts and school budgets. With districts having to tighten their belts, many ESP positions were eyed as areas to cut costs. As a result, Boards of Education began to fire—via privatizing ESP jobs—their support staff as a way to recoup budget funds. However, this issue affected both certificated and non-certificated employees.

These public education activists formed a group called South Jersey United (SJU,) and they began attending Board meetings throughout the southern part of the state to fight against PARCC testing and the privatization battles that ensued because of this unfunded mandate. District employees didn’t feel safe raising their concerns for fear of retaliation, so members of SJU would travel across South Jersey to support their colleagues and speak out on their behalf.

As the number of fights began to grow, ESP advocates within the NJEA quickly realized that more formal action needed to be taken, and the South Jersey Anti-Privatization Coalition (SJAPC) was born. Over a period of three to four years, the SJAPC fought and won 33 privatization battles, bringing a much-needed voice to ESPs in the region.

The SJAPC’s efforts were well-known. Thanks to the power of social media, this advocacy group quickly grew to over 500 members, and its reach extended far beyond South Jersey. As their impact spread, SJAPC members felt a new name was needed to better represent this new statewide group, and the Educational Support Professionals Advocacy Network (ESPAN) was born.

The goal of ESPAN is to develop new strategies and initiatives to protect ESP members’ rights, benefits and careers, regardless of their job category and worksite. In 2021, ESPAN welcomed like-minded members from all 21 counties to serve as “captains,” with a primary focus to introduce ESPAN to their peers. In 2022, ESPAN was recognized by NJEA as an official “affinity group” of the organization, and it continues gain momentum as it seeks to provide a stronger, more dedicated advocacy structure for ESPs throughout New Jersey.