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Bill granting parental leave for Arkansas high schoolers advances

Rep. Ashley Hudson, D-Little Rock, responds to questions from members of the House Education committee on Tuesday.
Arkansas Legislature
Rep. Ashley Hudson, D-Little Rock, responds to questions from members of the House Education committee on Tuesday.

A bill that would ensure a minimum period of leave for high school students after giving birth has advanced in the Arkansas Legislature.

Members of the House Education committee on Tuesday unanimously approved House Bill 1161 sponsored by Rep. Ashley Hudson, D-Little Rock.

Hudson said the goal is to help make it easier for students to graduate from high school while ensuring the best possible care for their child.

“We know that outcomes are better for the parent and for the baby if their parents are able to obtain their high school degree. [It] certainly opens up a lot more opportunity for income, for getting jobs and for furthering their education, which of course opens up a lot more opportunity for their child,” Hudson said.

Hudson, an employment attorney, said the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was an inspiration for her bill. That law provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for certain reasons including birth and care of a newborn child.

Under HB1161, students would be guaranteed at least 10 days off from school after the birth of their child, and be allowed to make up any work they missed during that time period. Schools would also be required to provide a space separate from existing restrooms for new mothers to pump and store breast milk.

Olivia Gardner, education policy director with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, says the bill aims to help mitigate some of the negative effects of Arkansas’ high teen birth rate.

“Arkansas has the highest teen birth rate in the nation, 87% higher than the national average. We all want young people in Arkansas to have every opportunity to thrive, but our staggering number of teens giving birth puts young people at risk of not finishing high school,” Gardner said. “This bill would be a powerful step in that direction.

Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, said she was aware of some schools in her district which already have similar policies in place. Hudson said the goal of the bill is to set a minimum standard for all schools across the state.

The bill passed the committee on a voice vote and now heads to the full House for consideration.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.