OKLAHOMA CITY – First, we at OICA wish all you a happy Thanksgiving holiday. This is an important time for families, and we wish the best to you and yours.
The United States is the only industrialized nation without a paid leave policy. I spent the better part of last week at a conference hosted by the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center looking at Paid Family Leave laws across the states.
OICA had supported such a policy last session in Oklahoma, SB 16X authored by Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan and Rep. Nick Archer, R-Elk City, which gave six weeks of paid maternity leave to full-time employees of the state, after the birth or adoption of a child.
Additionally, as part of the budget agreement for education, a similar paid leave was implemented for Oklahoma public school educators. Three states—Oklahoma, Tennessee, and South Carolina—have enacted new laws in this area. Chicago public schools, the nation’s fourth-largest school system, recently implemented this type of paid leave also.
This was a huge step forward for Oklahoma, and it is following national trends. In fact, 13 states and the District of Columbia have implemented paid family leave laws statewide for both the public and private sector, with some exceptions carved out. Nine are fully implemented and five others will begin in 2026. In total, 34 states introduced some form of this law, so Oklahoma successfully joined 10 other states enacting legislation to aid workers.
Research shows that access to paid parental leave can lead to improved health outcomes for both infants and mothers, especially in areas where Oklahoma is lagging. Increased leave can help alleviate these disturbing statistics:
- Our state has 7.1 infant deaths per 1,000 births.
- Oklahoma ranks worst in the nation with 73.2% of children under the age of 3 not ready to read, which leads to falling behind once they enter school.
- 23.5% of Oklahoma’s children under the age of three live in poverty.
- Oklahoma is the worst state in the nation for eligible families with children under 18 not receiving SNAP assistance.
Policymakers hope parental leave policies will be a job recruitment and retention tool, as school districts and state agencies report struggling to fill too many state job vacancies. Oklahoma currently has nearly 31,500 state employees, and over 59% are women; overall, more than 40% of the state’s workforce are of the age to have children.
State employee turnover costs Oklahoma taxpayers $110 million a year, and most of those leaving are women according to information presented at the conference. Additionally, the profession of teaching is predominately made up of women, many of whom are in their childbearing years.
The conference was made up of delegates from several states and was bipartisan in nature. The resources and information shared was highly informative, providing insight about why retention has been such a struggle and what can be done to help educate lawmakers about the benefits of parental leave, including stronger employee retention and greater health support for the infant.
At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma is part of a bipartisan group of six lawmakers trying to get paid family leave implemented. Nationally, 63% of families with children have both parents working outside the home. I was honored to visit with her about this topic over the weekend and OICA looks forward to assisting with her effort in Oklahoma and beyond.
About OICA: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2023. The organization was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”