Like other workers, our public school and state employees, who serve Georgians every day, deserve supports and assistance that strengthen their families. The state’s paid parental leave program is meant to help them when they need time to care and adjust to life after the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a new child. Passed in 2021, HB 146 allowed for the creation of three-week paid leave program that covers 100 percent of wages for qualified public-school and state workers. It was a step in the right direction for families, but the measure lacked state funding, which is essential for successful implementation.
Advocates have been concerned that the lack of state funding would make it hard for smaller school districts to implement the program. A recent paper notes that more than 550 state employees have utilized the program as of March 2022, but it is less clear how many public-school employees have availed themselves of the new benefit.
A new survey by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) provides insight to how some school districts are implementing the program. (Read the full report here.) GBPI, which reached out to districts on several issues including paid parental leave, found:
- While a majority of school district responding to the survey have created a parental leave policy, not all have. Twenty-seven out of the 31 school districts who responded to the survey had created a parental leave policy aligned with HB 146. Still, it is notable that 13 percent of districts participating in the survey have not created a policy about a year after the law went into effect and may suggest other school districts that did not respond to the survey have not either.
- Many school districts are not actively publicizing this new benefit. The most common form of communication was through the employee handbook, which many staff who are not new hires may not read.
- The potential costs to school districts could be significant if more staff take advantage of the benefit. Not only would districts have to cover 100 percent of the employee’s salary but they would also need to pay for substitutes. A representative of Early County Schools said, “It didn’t’ affect us much this past year but in future years the impact may be greater.”
Paid parental leave is popular in Georgia as it supports maternal and infant health and improves employee satisfaction. A 2020 Georgia voter poll found 88 percent of respondents supported parental leave and were in favor of other forms of family leave. Research finds paid parental leave programs reduce infant mortality and improve mental and physical health for birthing people. The Harvard Business Review also found that paid leave programs generally help boost employee morale and retention.
Despite the new law and the potential benefits of paid leave, many public-school employees are at risk of missing out on this program because school districts may not have the resources to finance it on their own. News outlets across the country and in Georgia report teacher burnout from the pandemic and concern about the toxic discourse around public health and curriculum. Many teachers have left or are considering leaving the profession, which would negatively impact students and communities long term. For example, one public school teacher said:
“In thinking about any future children that I have, at one point I was even considering leaving the public school system to work [in] corporate just to find a company that had good maternity benefits. It’s extremely unfortunate that that mindset has to exist — that you would work at a company solely for its benefits.”
State leaders must continue to support public school employees by ensuring all eligible staff are aware of and have access to Georgia’s paid leave program. During the upcoming legislative session, the General Assembly should take the opportunity to strengthen the program by:
- Providing continuous state funding for HB 146 to help school districts and state agencies implement the program;
- Requiring state agencies and school districts to communicate widely about the benefit so old and new staff are informed (e.g., in periodic emails to staff or in annual employee benefit meetings); and
- Requiring the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Education to collect data on program take-up to understand gaps in the program’s reach by school district, job function, and by race, ethnicity and gender.
Finally, for the state to benefit from the full health and economic impacts of paid leave and to advance racial and gender equity, Georgia legislators should consider a comprehensive paid leave program for the public and non-public workforce.