On April 21st, state lawmakers passed legislation with unanimous support to provide Tennessee public school teachers and administrators with 6 weeks of paid parental leave for birth, adoption, or after the stillbirth of a child. This new policy will ensure that public school educators can take time to recover from childbirth and bond with a new child without sacrificing their income, savings, or sick days. Importantly, the state will reimburse local districts for the cost of providing the leave. Lawmakers recently passed a similar policy for state government employees.
“Tennessee’s educators work hard to teach and care for our children, and this policy will finally help ensure they can care for their own without sacrificing their income or savings,” said Feroza Freeland, Policy Manager of the Southern Office at A Better Balance. “Paid parental leave is proven to boost employee retention & morale, strengthen economic security for families, and promote better health outcomes for parents and children.”
Teachers and administrators across Tennessee were vocal in advocating for the policy, including many who signed a public letter in support. Kathryn Vaughn, a Tipton County teacher and Community Advocate with A Better Balance, shared her heartbreaking story of struggling to get by without paid parental leave after the long-awaited birth of her son, and a subsequent miscarriage. “I pushed through my pain and continued to teach, even as I could feel the pregnancy slipping away,” Kathryn wrote. “No one should ever be put in that situation, but there I was, trying to preserve paid sick days so I could patch together a future paid maternity leave if I am lucky enough to carry another baby to term.”
Providing paid parental leave will help make local school districts more competitive in recruiting and retaining employees. Georgia already offers paid parental leave for its K-12 educators, and major Tennessee companies like FedEx and Pilot Flying J offer it as well. This is especially critical as school districts across the state struggle with high turnover and a shortage of qualified educators. According to a 2021 survey of Tennessee educators, 22% of respondents indicated they planned to leave the public education field altogether.
Since the opening of A Better Balance’s regional Southern Office in Nashville in 2014, our organization has advocated for paid family & medical leave for all Tennessee families, so that no one has to make the impossible choice between caring for loved ones or earning a paycheck. Restricted access to reproductive healthcare has only added further urgency to the already pressing need for these protections for both birth and adoptive parents.