Paid family leave now guaranteed for all SC public school teachers, staff

Gov. Henry McMaster held a ceremonial signing Wednesday morning for a bill to provide paid parental leave for school district employees in South Carolina.
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 10:50 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2023 at 6:29 PM EDT
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina is now doing what just a handful of other states across the nation have done: guaranteeing every public school teacher will get at least six weeks of paid leave when they welcome a child.

This new school year is the first one in which the state’s new school employee paid family leave law is in effect.

Gov. Henry McMaster joined teachers and other state leaders at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill on Wednesday to celebrate it with a bill signing ceremony.

The policy, which has officially been in effect since late June, is already helping ease some unknowns for expectant parents like Carson Coomes.

“A big concern being my ability to take time off from being an educator, which is a job I absolutely love, to be a mother,” Coomes, the orchestra director at Blythewood Middle School in Richland School District Two, said.

In the past, parents who worked in South Carolina public schools had to use their vacation, sick time, and likely even take unpaid time off in the weeks after they welcomed a new child.

Starting this year, that changes.

“For our educators, we don’t want them to have to choose between their careers and starting a family,” Rock Hill Schools Superintendent Dr. Tommy Schmolze said.

This new South Carolina law provides six weeks of paid leave for public school employees who give birth and for those who are the primary caregivers for adopted children.

Parents who don’t give birth, who adopt but aren’t the primary caregiver, and who foster can get two weeks.

School employees can take this time within 12 months of the birth, adoption, or fostering, so they will still be guaranteed their full paid leave if that event happened over summer break. However, if they take part of their leave at the end of the school year, districts will be able to decide if they can take the rest at the start of the next school year or if the leave is over.

Parents who take paid leave will not have that time off count against the time they need to work to reach their next step on the teacher pay scale.

“This bill lets you know that we care about the teachers that serve our kids, and we care about raising good families in South Carolina,” Sen. Sean Bennett, R – Dorchester, said.

The General Assembly did not allocate money specifically for schools to implement this new law.

State leaders point out every district is getting more money from this year’s state budget than they did last year and say they feel confident districts should have enough to cover any new costs.

“To the extent that this will encourage people to become teachers, which I think it will, it will really be a great cost savings,” McMaster told reporters.

Four South Carolina districts offered paid leave for school staff prior to the new law’s passage at the State House this spring. Schmolze, Rock Hill’s superintendent, said 31 families tapped into it during his district’s one-year pilot last year, costing an additional $139,000.

The new policy comes as South Carolina grapples with a teacher shortage that grows year after year.

Lawmakers and educators say this is the type of action needed to keep teachers in the classroom, though it alone is not enough.

“It is one beautiful step in the right direction to providing parents the time that is needed to welcome a new person into their lives and provide for them in their most vulnerable moments,” Coomes said.

This new law, which passed unanimously in the General Assembly earlier this year, builds on another one the legislature passed last year that guarantees the same amounts of paid family leave to all state employees.