During the closing hours of last week’s state budget frenzy, 40 years after the enactment of Title IX, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed its own landmark legislation to advance gender equality in educational opportunities. The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Bill passed the state House of Representatives on June 30 as part of an omnibus school code bill (HB 1901) which the Governor has approved. This provision, strongly supported by the Women’s Law Project and many other advocates for women’s equality, including the Women & Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, will require all public high schools, middle schools, and junior high schools in Pennsylvania to report annually the number of athletic opportunities they provide to girls and boys, broken down further by race/ethnicity, as well as other data that may reflect the quality of the athletic programming offered. Pennsylvania will join Kentucky, Georgia, and New Mexico in requiring secondary schools to disclose basic information that will help inform students, parents, and community members of whether their schools may be in violation of Title IX.
Since Title IX was enacted in 1972, the number of girls participating in interscholastic high school athletics has increased significantly. However, a large gap remains between the number of high school girls and the number of high school boys playing competitive sports. In recent years, this gap has widened. There are now approximately 1.3 million more boys than girls participating in high school sports. This imbalance is greatest in urban schools, where 73% of the boys but only 45% of the girls in grades 3-12 are involved in athletics, a disparity that affects girls of color most significantly. And even where girls have the opportunity to play, in many districts, they receive inferior equipment, uniforms, fields, facilities, coaching, publicity, scheduling, and transportation compared to the boys.
Currently, female students who suspect that their school’s athletic program is treating them unfairly must either confront school officials before they have all the facts, or file a Right-To-Know request, which can sometimes lead to administrative battles and time-consuming appeals. Beginning in 2013, Pennsylvanians will only have to visit the Department of Education’s website to obtain the basic information that is key to grassroots reform efforts.
At stake is far more than just the fun and friendship that team sports create. Participation in organized sports improves leadership skills, opens doors for college scholarships, and correlates with better grades, a better chance of graduating and getting a job, and lower rates of depression, drug and alcohol use, smoking, teen pregnancy, and obesity. In fact, over 80% of female executives report that they played a team sport in their youth.
For more information on athletic inequalities in Pennsylvania, see WLP’s publication: Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women (2012); 2009-2010 Title IX Audit of the Pittsburgh Public Schools ; Are Schools Giving Female Athletes a Sporting Chance? A Guide to Gender Equity in Athletics in Pennsylvania Schools (2009); and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics: Where Does Pennsylvania Stand? (2005)