- While many developed nations have mandated paid parental leave policies, the United States doesn't, and only a handful of states — including New Jersey and Washington — offer these benefits from teachers, most of whom are women, Education Week reports. And while more are developing extended paid family leave policies, the cost of these measures makes it difficult for many states and school districts to adopt.
- Though research has highlighted the benefits and improved health outcomes that paid parental leave can have on parents and children, many teachers don't have access. As a result, they often must rely on an average of 12 sick and personal days each year, leaving them with the choice of returning to teaching before they are ready or living on no income until they return to work, Ed Week notes.
- For teachers especially, generous paid family leave polices can be an effective recruitment and retention tool, as 77% of teachers are female and the average age of teachers is 42, placing many in their child-bearing years. Teachers' unions are also generally supportive of increasing paid maternity leave, an issue that's being used more often in strike negotiations.
A large part of an educator's job entails taking care of a group of kids, yet when it comes to giving birth and taking care of their own — or taking care of themselves when they're sick — a lack of paid parental leave puts them in a tough spot. This struggle places additional stress on teachers, affects their work-life balance and forces some to leave the profession altogether at a time when more are needed in the industry. The lack of paid family leave policies also provides another bone of contention between school districts and their educators, especially in light of current teacher strikes that continue to draw national attention to poor working conditions.
At a federal level and in some states, governments are battling the maternity leave dilemma as more light has been shed on the moral, physical, emotional and even long-term economic value of more generous family leave policies. The idea is also gaining popularity, which can work in advocates' favor and can be appealing to politicians. And though more companies are also seeing the value, finding funding is not easy. A federal bill under consideration in Congress, foe instance, would allow individuals to pull some of their social security benefits to use for paid parental leave.
However, districts can still take action on their own. If funding allows, implementing a district-level paid leave mandate could provide relief to affected teachers. In addition, some states and districts offer partial benefits during maternity leave, deducting the cost of hiring replacement substitutes and giving the rest to teachers on leave — a setup that doesn't pose a major financial burden to school districts, allows parents to temporarily save on child care costs and helps to retain teachers in the long run. School districts can also look at other strategies that benefit new mothers, such as providing adequate facilities for breastfeeding and offering free or reduced cost onsite child care.