District Trendline

How many school districts offer paid parental leave?

See all posts

Teachers in Columbus, Ohio made history earlier this year when a highly-publicized strike resulted in a new paid parental leave policy, offering teachers 20 days of paid leave in addition to earned sick leave.594 A few years earlier, teachers in New York City made headlines after a petition to provide paid parental leave garnered 85,000 teacher signatures, and resulted in New York City Schools and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) jointly rolling out six weeks of paid leave.596,610 These new benefits align with medical consensus on the importance of paid family leave and come during a growing movement to provide leave to families nationwide. 

As the national conversation on paid parental and family leave has gained traction, have other school districts taken note? In this District Trendline, we find that while most large districts still do not offer this benefit, a few have taken some important steps to offer some parental leave.611

Below, we review districts' parental leave policies, summarize the research on how family leave policies may benefit teacher-parents and their children, and consider how offering paid leave can help districts support and retain teachers.

How many districts offer paid parental leave, and how much do they offer?

Paid parental leave has well-documented and wide-ranging benefits for the health and well-being of babies, birthing parents, and non-birthing parents.612 Yet few school districts offer any paid parental leave for teachers613 beyond earned sick days. Less than a quarter of districts in our sample (18%) provide this benefit; of those that do, the amount of leave offered varies widely, ranging from one day to five months, with most districts offering less than 31 days (all at varying levels of pay and with differing eligibility). The International Labor Organization recommends a minimum of 18 weeks for birthing parents, since called a "reasonable goal" for the American workforce by the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, though few employers in the United States offer this amount of leave.

This analysis considers paid family leave policies that extend beyond normal sick leave.614 Most teachers receive an average of between 10 and 14 days of sick leave each year.615 If teachers were to rely solely on sick leave, they might have as little as two weeks at home after giving birth, assuming they had not taken any sick time before the baby's arrival (and in doing so, would deplete all available sick days for the rest of the year).

Many districts' parental leave policies require teachers to exhaust all accumulated sick leave (and/or 'personal business' leave) before they can receive access to paid leave. A few districts go further by requiring teachers take additional days without pay after using all available sick leave in order to be eligible for paid leave (as one of several examples, Northside Independent School District (TX) requires teachers to take five unpaid days).

Many districts rely on use of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—a federal policy that provides 12 weeks of job-protected leave for both personal health and family caregiving events, including giving birth or welcoming a child—as teachers' primary way of accessing parental leave. Yet this leave is unpaid, a barrier that may make taking leave through FMLA difficult or impossible. It is also not an option for all teachers, as employees are not eligible for FMLA until they have worked for their employer for 12 months.

Of the districts in our sample, Elk Grove Unified School District (CA) provides the longest term of leave, specifying that after the teacher has exhausted all sick leave, the district provides a five month partially-paid "extended illness leave" which may be used for pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, and recovery therefrom. Wichita Public Schools (KS) also offers a generous amount of accrued leave for birthing parents, with a maximum of 180 days.616

Note: This includes all days of leave offered, regardless of who is eligible to take them.

How much pay do districts offer during parental leave?

Of the districts in our sample that provide access to paid parental leave (18%), 11 offer all days of the leave at full pay.617 Another 15 provide compensation below the full amount of a teacher's regular paycheck, meaning that teachers would have an extended pay cut should they want or need to access parental leave. Seven of these 15 districts make this calculation by subtracting the cost of the substitute's pay from teachers' paychecks during time on leave,618 and one district does not specify pay.

Who is eligible for paid parental leave?

Teachers are most often eligible for parental leave after giving birth to a child: 27 districts, or 18% of the sample, offer paid parental leave to a birthing parent. Eighteen districts in our sample offer some amount of leave to fathers and/or non-birthing parents when the teacher's co-parent gives birth.619,652 Jordan School District (UT), for instance, provides six weeks of leave for mothers, and two weeks for non-maternal parents. Four of the 18 districts specify leave for non-birthing parents as specifically "paternity leave," making it unclear what benefits non-birthing parents who are not fathers can expect, if any.

Thirteen districts provide some leave for adoption, and 10 of these districts provide leave equivalent to maternity leave.653 Eleven districts provide leave to welcome a foster child, also typically equivalent to maternity leave.662,663 Two districts, Elk Grove Unified School District (CA) and Wichita Public Schools (KS), provide paid leave for recovery when a pregnancy ends before birth.

Some districts explicitly limit what parental leave can be used for, such as Frisco Independent School District (TX), which specifies that the 10 days of partially paid leave may not be used "for routine well-baby care or bonding time," but rather only for pregnancy related injury and illness.

Of note, some districts in our sample are located in the 11 states and the District of Columbia that either currently offer or have recently passed policies that will extend paid parental leave statewide.664

How are districts using gender-neutral and inclusive policies?

Districts can draft policies that include all families by using gender neutral language and offering leave that reflects the many possible ways families welcome new children. Seattle Public Schools' (WA) contract provides the following: "Up to five (5) days total shall be granted with pay upon application to Human Resources to parents or guardians for the purpose of care for a newborn child or for the placement of a child with the employee for foster care or guardianship or other emergency situations where the employee has recently become legally responsible for the care of a newborn or minor child."

Other districts use gender neutral language and more inclusive phrasing that can account for a range of ways that a teacher might start a family. Fort Wayne Community Schools (IN) refers to the three days of parental leave it provides for non-birthing parents as "for the birth of a teacher's child other than by pregnancy of the teacher"—language that could be interpreted to cover parental leave for a partner regardless of gender identity, and to provide leave for surrogacy.

Drafting inclusive policies also means considering how and whether or not teachers might receive differential benefits based on how they start a family. To be sure, birthing parents may need additional time to recover from giving birth. But providing no leave, or less generous leave, to welcome a newborn through adoption, surrogacy, or foster parenting may disproportionately impact certain groups of teachers based on their identity—LBGTQ+ and non-cisgender parents, for example.

Paid parental leave: A win for teacher well-being and retention?

On top of the well-documented benefits to new parents and their children (some of whom may be future students of the district),665 districts may find that offering a competitive family leave policy could pay dividends in better teacher well-being and retention.

Benefits of paid leave

Access to parental leave presents tangible benefits to teachers and their newborns. Global research has found a strong link between parental leave and decreased infant mortality, along with other key infant health metrics.666 Lack of paid leave is associated with lower parental and infant health and well-being, with effects on child development that can be seen years later.667 When new mothers gain access to paid leave, their health outcomes are remarkably improved: lowered blood pressure, lowered pain, and up to 51% lower likelihood of being rehospitalized after giving birth.668

Access to paid parental leave for fathers is also important for the long term well-being of both parents and children. Years later, the children of fathers who took at least two weeks of paternity leave reported feeling closer to their dads and having better communication with them.669 One recent study found that fathers taking paid leave was associated with better long-term relationship success between parents, including significantly lower rates of divorce.670 Another large-scale study of Swedish paid leave reforms found that new fathers taking paternity leave reduced postpartum mothers' likelihood of being prescribed anxiety medication by 26%, and lowered maternal risk of physical health complications postpartum.671 Still another found that introducing access to paternity leave was associated with lowered stress and depression for mothers and lessened fatigue for new fathers.684 Taken together, this evidence points to the importance of providing both parents with leave.

Supporting new parents' mental health

Districts nationwide have struggled to respond to a documented teacher mental health crisis. Teachers report higher symptoms of stress and depression than other working adults—a phenomenon that was exacerbated by the pandemic.672 Teachers' mental health challenges, already troubling enough on their own, also have discernable impact on student learning and well-being.673 While research is scant on the health impacts of parental leave for teachers specifically, there is ample evidence that without access to paid parental leave, new parents (particularly mothers and birthing parents) experience increased mental health symptoms.674 Districts may find that offering paid leave as part of a wider teacher well-being strategy may help new parents experience fewer struggles when they return to the classroom.

Reducing attrition

Lack of access to paid parental leave may also have a relationship with teacher attrition. Studies have found that lack of access to paid leave causes women to leave the workforce at a higher rate; and when women gain access to paid leave, they are more likely to return to the workforce.675 A 2012 study identified a pattern of female teachers leaving the profession while their children were young, then re-entering the profession as their children reach school age.676 In their sample, the authors found that compared to other teachers who leave and later return to the classroom, those who exited and did not return in a given year were far more likely to have newborn children. New research revisited this pattern to determine if it persisted in more recent cohorts of teachers exiting the classroom, and found that this pattern had disappeared in more recent cohorts: teachers with young children still leave at similar rates, but do not appear to re-enter after their children have grown older.677 Given how few teachers receive paid parental leave, it remains to be seen whether or not broader access to leave (ideally coupled with childcare subsidies)678 might bring more teachers back to the classroom, but it is a hypothesis worth testing.

The most recent federal data available shows that a quarter of teachers who recently left teaching reported "personal life reasons (e.g., health, pregnancy/childcare, caring for family)" as the most important reason that factored into their decision to quit, while 61% ranked personal life reasons between "very important" and the "most important" reason for leaving.679 Sixty-one percent of leavers reported that their new jobs provided more ability to balance personal life and work.680 More recent data from the RAND Corporation also found that recent leavers reported that their new jobs provided greater flexibility.681 Data from Educators for Excellence's 2022 nationally-representative survey of teachers found that 37% of teachers ranked "improved family support (discounted daycare, maternity leave, etc.)" as one of the top three financial incentives to recruit and retain teachers. This number rose to 65% for educators of color, and to 42% for teachers under thirty.

On the other hand, a recent Education Week survey found that teachers as a whole ranked paid parental leave comparatively low in a list of potential benefits (such as higher pay and increased pension benefits) that would persuade them to stay in teaching over the long term. While paid parental leave may not be all teachers' top priority, the survey did not separate out respondents by age or intention to have children in the future, meaning that the aggregate results could obscure a real interest from a subset of teachers.682,683

Getting started

When considering adding or expanding access to paid leave, districts will likely have questions about cost and staffing logistics. These policies present districts with two main costs: the cost of paying the salary of teachers on leave, and the cost of staffing teachers' classrooms while they are out. To understand the cost of paying teachers while on leave, districts can use historical data on how many teachers typically use unpaid or sick leave for the birth of a child as a baseline to estimate increased salary costs.

The second cost is staffing teachers' classrooms while they're on leave. Here again, it would be helpful to look at available FMLA data: if many teachers take less than the available leave (e.g., six weeks instead of 12), it is possible that teachers would take more time if it were paid, and so the school would need to pay a substitute teacher for more time. However, if teachers already take the maximum available time and a parental leave policy would offer added financial support but not additional time off, the district may not see big changes in staffing needs. Creative staffing models like job sharing or team teaching models could also help alleviate some of these costs.

Districts should also consider how paid parental leave might fit into their longer term strategy to reduce teacher attrition. In light of current substitute shortages and concerns about staffing, districts might be reluctant in the immediate term to provide a benefit that increases teachers' time on leave. Taking a longer view, districts would do well to consider whether they face a higher long term cost if teachers exit the district due to lack of available parental leave. Estimates place the cost of attrition starting at about $9,000 per teacher,685 to say nothing of the impact on students; if offering paid family leave reduces attrition, the upfront cost of providing this benefit might prevent larger costs to students and future costs to the district budget.

As the national conversation around paid parental leave gains momentum, districts should consider how offering this benefit contributes to their goals for attracting, supporting, and retaining a diverse and effective teacher workforce.