Southern States Lead the Way: The Rise of Paid Parental Leave for Educators

Paid parental leave for educators not only fosters stronger families but also cultivates a healthier workforce, and we're so proud to see remarkable strides in the South towards passing these critical policies.
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In recent years, state policies providing dedicated paid parental leave for educators have seen remarkable strides in the South, positioning the region as a leader in this essential aspect of work/family justice. Since 2021, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina have enacted legislation guaranteeing paid family leave for public school educators across their states. This shift marks significant progress, ensuring that educators in these states no longer face the impossible dilemma of choosing between unpaid leave or exhausting their paid sick and vacation days when a new child arrives, leaving them with no remaining paid leave in case their child becomes sick later on. While twelve states and D.C. have comprehensive paid family and medical leave policies that may cover educators, it’s noteworthy that Utah stands as the sole non-Southern state with a statewide law providing dedicated paid parental leave for teachers.

The efforts of A Better Balance’s Southern Office, in close collaboration with partners across the region, have played a crucial role in broadening access to paid family leave for educators. Among other things, our Southern office has supported the passage of laws supporting educators by providing technical assistance to partners, drafting talking points, and advising on strategy. In the most recent legislative session, partners secured a significant win for teachers in Georgia, where the state expanded paid family leave for teachers and state employees from 3 to 6 weeks. The expansion of Georgia’s 2021 policy demonstrates the value of paid parental leave and the eagerness of lawmakers to build on the policy’s success. Additionally, bills proposing paid parental leave for educators were introduced during this legislative session in Alabama and Louisiana, both of which garnered bipartisan support, although they did not ultimately pass into law. Nevertheless, Louisiana’s legislature passed a resolution requiring a study of the impacts of a paid leave program for public school teachers.

Acknowledging the role of labor unions in securing paid family leave for educators is paramount. Some states—such as Oklahoma, New York, Illinois, and Connecticut—allow teachers to obtain paid family leave coverage through collective bargaining. Notably, the Chicago Teacher’s Union achieved a monumental victory last year, securing 12 weeks of paid parental leave and reinforcing the importance of collaborative efforts between unions and policymakers. Paid family leave policies for educators should be crafted in consultation with relevant labor union partners to ensure they are aligned with existing collective bargaining agreements.

Expanded support for paid parental leave for educators not only fosters stronger families but also cultivates a healthier workforce. Providing dedicated paid parental leave ensures that teachers can navigate the postpartum period and establish crucial bonds with their new children without sacrificing their income or savings. Educators work hard to teach and care for our children, and it is imperative that they have the time and support they need to care for their own families as well. We are proud of the progress in securing paid family leave for teachers in the South and are dedicated to continuing to work closely with Southern partners and lawmakers to sustain support for these critical policies. As we celebrate these successes, we remain optimistic about the prospect of more states and cities embracing similar initiatives in the years ahead, fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment for educators and their families.

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