California proposes paid pregnancy leave for educators

Dive Brief:

  • California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond is backing proposed state legislation that would provide paid disability leave for pregnant educators in an effort to improve retention. The leave would provide full pay for a maximum of 14 weeks. 
  • Currently, pregnant teachers and other school employees do not receive paid pregnancy disability leave and have to tap into other reserves for leave after giving birth or to manage their pregnancies. They are entitled to four months of unpaid leave under state law. 
  • Thurmond’s push adds to a string of similar moves meant to improve work-life balance in both blue and red states. Paid parental leave for educators has gained traction or expanded in a number of states, including Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee, New York and North Carolina.

Dive Insight:

Amid teacher shortages, more states and districts are looking to enhance teachers’ work-life balance by providing paid pregnancy disability leave and paid parental leave.

Still, the numbers of states following these footsteps are relatively few, according to research. 

According to a 2022 review of 148 school districts by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a very small number offer any paid parental leave for educators, relying instead for paid leave on the use of earned sick days. Of the districts surveyed, 115 said they had no paid parental leave. Less than a quarter (18%) provided paid parental leave, most commonly for birthing parents. Even fewer provided leave to fathers or nonbirthing parents. 

And in districts and states with paid leave, the type, length and timing varies. 

“Teachers must be able to afford to stay in the profession and start a family,” said Thurmond, who announced support for the bill last week. The bill, introduced last month and backed by Democrats, would “make critical strides toward retaining great teachers to address the staffing crisis in California’s classrooms.” It is expected to be heard in committee later this month.

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a parental leave measure, saying it would “result in annual costs of tens of millions of dollars.” Newsom instead wanted the issue tackled through local collective bargaining or as part of the state budget.

In Delaware, paid parental leave put in place in 2021 was found to “be an attractive and well-received benefit to the state workforce,” according to a policy review conducted by the state Department of Human Resources between fiscal years 2022 and 2023. 

The traction for paid leave policies comes amid the proposed regulations for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require schools to accommodate school employees if they cannot perform one or more essential functions of their job during pregnancy. The regulations were proposed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2023 and expected to be finalized by December 2023, but they have not yet been released.

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act requires up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for government employees. 

The push in California also comes as proposed Title IX regulations from the U.S. Department of Education seek to protect pregnant workers and students from sex discrimination. The proposal, which the department said would be finalized in March, would provide protections for students and employees with medical conditions related to, or who are recovering from, pregnancy, including termination of pregnancy. 

In the 2020-21 school year, the latest data available from the Education Department, over three-quarters of public school teachers were female.