Title IX Background and Continuing Challenges

In 1972 Congress passed Title IX as part of the Higher Education Amendments. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance including athletics and sports.

Women who were under 10 when Title IX passed have much higher sports participation rates than women who grew up before Title IX. Fifty-five percent of the “post-Title IX” generation participated in high school sports, compared to 36% of the “pre-Title IX” generation. Because of Title IX, more women have received athletic scholarships and thus the opportunity for higher education than would have been possible otherwise. In fact, many women Olympic athletes credit Title IX for the opportunity to attend college through athletic scholarships and to participate in sports. But the progress women and girls have made in athletics and other areas under Title IX falls far short of full equality.

From the start, the implementation of Title IX has been subverted. Title IX passed with little controversy in 1972. Soon after Title IX passed, however, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and high school administrators complained that boys’ sports would suffer if girls’ sports had to be funded equally. Regulations about how to implement the law did not go into effect until 1975. Even then, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) did not enforce the law. Few complaints were investigated and resolved.

Under Presidents Reagan and Bush, the agencies in charge of enforcing the law dragged their feet. Then, in a 1984 decision, Grove City v. Bell, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Title IX. In that ruling, the court said Title IX did not cover entire educational institutions – only those programs directly receiving federal funds. Other programs, such as athletics, that did not receive federal funds, were free to discriminate on the basis of gender.

But women’s rights groups fought back. Four years later, over Reagan’s veto, Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987. This act nullified the effects of the Grove City ruling by outlawing sex discrimination throughout an entire educational institution if any part of the institution received federal funding. In addition to the Act, the OCR publicly renewed its commitment to ending gender discrimination, calling Title IX a “top priority,” and publishing a “Title IX Athletic Investigator’s Manual” to strengthen enforcement procedures.

In February of 1992, the Supreme Court in Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools held that victims may be awarded monetary damages in sex discrimination cases. This case was crucial in putting “teeth” into Title IX, allowing women to find lawyers willing to take their cases because of the possibility of damages awards, and threatening colleges in their pocketbooks if they refused to comply with Title IX.

One problem with bringing Title IX complaints against colleges is not knowing how much money a college or university is putting into women’s and men’s sports. Thanks to a 1994 amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act introduced by Senators Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), colleges and universities are now required to disclose funding and participation rates.

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