California teachers and other school employees may soon be able to take at least six weeks of fully paid maternity leave.
After the Assembly approved Assembly Bill 500, it was approved by the Senate Wednesday and is on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, awaiting his approval.
Currently, teachers can take unpaid maternity leave, but most use vacation and sick leave in order to get paid. After their sick leave is used up they can earn differential pay — the remainder of their salary after the district pays for a substitute for their class — for up to five months while on maternity leave.
The bill would require all school districts, charter schools and community colleges to provide at least six weeks of paid leave for teachers, other academic employees and classified employees for pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth and recovery. The length of the leave is to be determined by the woman’s physician.
The bill would create significant costs for school districts and community colleges, according to a Department of Finance analysis. If 1 percent of teachers took the paid leave it would cost between $20 million and $48 million annually. The cost of substitutes could be an additional $13 million to $24 million. The actual cost will depend on the number of employees who take the leave and their salaries.
“Obviously the goal is laudable,” said Troy Flint, senior director of communications for the California School Boards Association. “CSBA opposition stems from the vehicle and the impact it would have on school districts’ ability to provide resources for students.”
The California school system is already overburdened and under-resourced, Flint said. Instead of the state mandating the benefit, school districts could consider it as part of collective bargaining agreements with employees, he said.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year saying that leave policies for school employees are best resolved through the collective bargaining process at the local level. It’s not clear where Newsom stands on the bill.
Supporters of the bill, including employee unions, have said that the lack of this benefit is one reason that the state’s school districts are having trouble recruiting teachers.
The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said unpaid leave means some women aren’t able to take the necessary time off during their pregnancies and after childbirth for recovery.
“The hardworking employees who help our students thrive should not have to shoulder the burden of choosing between having children and paying the bills,” she said in a statement included in a Senate analysis. “Paid leave benefits have been shown to help increase worker retention and reduce turnover, particularly for women. Moreover, being able to take necessary time off before and after a pregnancy is crucial for the health of both the mother and the child, evidenced by positive outcomes such as healthier birth weights, decreased premature births and decreased infant mortality rates.”