Like other workers, our state and public school employees, who serve Georgians every day, deserve support and assistance that strengthens their families. The state’s paid parental leave program is intended to help them when they need time to care for and adjust to life after childbirth, adoption or foster care. a new child. Passed in 2021, HB 146 created a three-week paid vacation program that covers 100% of wages for qualified state and public school employees. It was a step in the right direction for families, but the measure lacked state funding, which is essential for successful implementation.
Advocates worry that a lack of state funding will make it difficult for smaller school districts to implement the program. A recent article notes that more than 550 state employees used the program in March 2022, but it’s less clear how many public school employees took advantage of the new benefit.
A new survey from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) provides insight into how some school districts are implementing the program. (Read the full report here.) GBPI, which contacted districts on several issues, including paid parental leave, found:
- Although the majority of school districts responding to the survey have created a parental leave policy, not all have. Twenty-seven of the 31 school districts responding to the survey had created a parental leave policy aligned with HB 146. Nevertheless, it should be noted that 13% of school districts participating in the survey had not created a policy. about a year after the law. went into effect and may suggest that other school districts that did not respond to the survey did not either.
- Many school districts do not actively advertise this new benefit. The most common form of communication was the employee handbook, which many employees who are not new hires may not read.
- The potential costs to school districts could be significant if more staff benefited. Not only should districts cover 100% of the employee’s salary, but they should also pay replacements. A representative from First County Schools said: “It didn’t affect us much last year, but in the years to come the impact could be greater.”
Paid parental leave is popular in Georgia because it supports maternal and child health and improves employee satisfaction. A 2020 poll of Georgia voters found that 88% of those polled supported parental leave and favored other forms of family leave. Research shows that paid parental leave programs reduce infant mortality and improve the mental and physical health of those giving birth. The harvard business review also found that paid vacation programs generally help boost employee morale and retention.
Despite the new law and the potential benefits of paid time off, many public school employees may not benefit from this program because school districts may not have the resources to fund it themselves. News outlets across the country and in Georgia are reporting on teacher burnout due to the pandemic and concern over toxic public health discourse and curriculum. Many teachers have left or are considering leaving the profession, which would have a long-term negative impact on students and communities. For example, a public school teacher said:
“Thinking of all the future children I have, at one point I was even considering leaving the public school system to work. [in] company just to find a company that offered good maternity benefits. It is extremely unfortunate that this mindset has to exist – that you work in a company solely for its benefits.
State leaders must continue to support public school employees by ensuring that all eligible staff know about and have access to Georgia’s paid vacation program. During the next legislative session, the General Assembly should seize the opportunity to strengthen the program by:
- Provide ongoing state funding for HB 146 to help school districts and state agencies implement the program;
- Require state agencies and school districts to communicate benefits widely so that old and new staff are informed (for example, in periodic emails to staff or at annual employee benefits meetings); and
- Require the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Education to collect data on program participation to understand gaps in program 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 lawmakers should consider a comprehensive paid leave program for the public workforce and not public.