Living Wage for Program Delivery Staff | NAAEE

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Living Wage for Program Delivery Staff

Hi all,

While I have a good amount of experience with educational programming, I'm still relatively new to the field of EE. As I'm learning more about the field and building my experience, I've noticed a trend that I'd like to discuss. As we all know, environmental education isn't considered a field one pursues to make a lot of money. However, I've noticed fewer and fewer EE jobs pay enough to meet basic living expenses Many EE positions, especially field staff positions that are absolutely fundamental to delivering EE programs, don't pay anywhere near a living wage of $15/hour. $15/hour isn't even a really a living wage in many places, including where I live in South Florida. This is an equity issue too, as we know there is significant overlap between struggling financially and many systems of oppression.

My discussion question: How can those in the field of EE, especially those in higher-authority and higher-paying positions, ensure that ALL environmental educators (including seasonal, temporary, and part-time employees) are paid a living wage? This is becoming an even more urgent issue due to pandemic-related economic instability and skyrocketing living costs. If the field of environmental education is to survive in a time of increasing instability, we are going to need to start reckoning honestly with this question.

I agree Yarrow. This is something I have been thinking about for a while, but I honestly have not come up with any answers. I know within my own organization (in which I would say we are all underpaid) time is a huge constraint for being able to find funding to pay employees. We have struggled to find grants that will fund salaries. I would love to hear others thoughts on this as well and keep the discussion going.

I agree that this is something worth talking about. I think it fundamentally comes down to society embracing environmental education. The pandemic has definitely accelerated the conversation and shown that we need good environmental education programming. I wish I could contribute more to the financial side of EE, but I'm just as stumped as many newcomers to the field are I'm sure.

One of the issues here is that EE still isn't seen as an essential service or component of K-12 education. Since the start of the pandemic, the UC Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science and a consortium of partners have been working as an advocate to change this attitude, at least here in California, with their research having outlined a lot of the impacts seen in this article: One of their findings that has always stuck with me is that (paraphrased) four hours spent learning in the outdoors is equivalent to one month of classroom science (since classes usually only spend ~30-60 minutes/week on science). That's been my selling point to teachers, school administrators, and funders ever since I first heard it from Craig Strand in 2019.

As far as addressing issues of pay, here is a short-hand list of options I developed for a recent client that could not raise their pay rates ($18-$21/hour in the greater CA Bay Area) for their program educators but wanted to attract diverse applicants:

- Work with a local CSA or food pantry to have free or steeply discounted groceries provided to staff on a weekly to bi-weekly basis
- Work with local public or private transportation services to obtain discounted transportation passes or tickets
- Locate a bike rental program and procure bikes for staff to use in lieu of other forms of transportation
- Offer mileage reimbursement
- Offer monthly technology stipends for those employees whose work requires regular use of their personal technology (cell phones, computers, tablets, etc.)
- Purchase or reimburse for all uniform costs from head-to-toe (even just paying for pants and shoes make a difference)
- Set up a free laundry room with a washer and dryer at your office or at a satellite/partner location
- Provide service-based cash awards (cash, gift cards, etc.)
- Provide half-time health benefits and/or monthly health care stipends (employees must provide proof of health care coverage)
- Offer education scholarships or reimbursement after (time) of dedicated employment (employees must provide proof of enrollment/graduation)

These approaches may require providers to re-assess their overhead costs and adjust their billable rates for grants and funders, rather than work on a direct cost-and-expense basis. I hope this helps give you some ideas on how to adjust to better support staff and attract candidates who may otherwise be considering employment in another field because EE salaries haven't caught up with the times.

This is something I personally care a lot about - so I'm excited to share that the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance is currently gathering a team to write a white paper on this topic. As a region, we want to take a stand on this. Our goals for this project are to provide concrete tools and suggestions for designing and posting positions, serve as a tool for individuals and organizations to advocate for increasing EE salaries, and help establish industry standards for pay and hiring in our region.

We'll be working on this project over the next 5 months or so - and we're actively recruiting volunteers for our advisory and writing teams right now. If you are interested in helping co-author or advise on this project, you can learn more at

While we'll be focused on the southeast region, we hope that this doc will hopefully be useful across the nation - so if you are interested in this, we'd love to have you as part of the development process!