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Title IX and High School Sports: Facts and Findings 

Posted on February 06, 2019

Did you know that Title IX applies to high school sports, as well as college sports?

Title IX’s complexities make it a program that is not very well understood. So, in honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day (February 6), today’s WatchBlog answers some common questions about Title IX in the context of high school sports and looks at some of our recent work on this topic.

Q: What is Title IX, anyway?

A: Passed in 1972, Title IX is a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education programs or activities that receive federal funds—including those at public high schools.

Q: Does Title IX require schools to have equal numbers of sports teams for girls and boys?

A: Not exactly. Title IX regulations require schools to offer equal participation opportunities for girls and boys. This does not necessarily mean the same number of teams, since team sizes can vary. One way a school can demonstrate equal participation opportunities is to think about participation in the context of enrollment—that is, if half of a school’s students are girls, then girls would also make up about half of sports participants.

Q: So, how are schools doing by that measure?

A: We looked at the Department of Education’s (Education) data for school year 2013-14 (the most recent available when we did this work), and found that girls made up 49% of students at public high schools that offer sports and 43% of sports participants at those schools.

Q: I’ve also heard that Title IX requires schools to spend the same amount on girls’ and boys’ teams. Is that true?

A: It’s complicated. Title IX requires equal treatment—in terms of things ranging from equipment and uniforms to coaching and travel opportunitiesacross all girls’ and boys’ teams, not necessarily spending.

Q: OK, but what about athletic booster club spending?

A: Booster club spending counts, too. Schools can’t accept funds or other contributions that create disparities between girls and boys.

Q: What are public high schools doing to ensure equal treatment?

A: We surveyed public high school athletics administrators and most of them said that, in the last 2 years, their school assessed some aspect of their treatment of girls’ and boys’ teams to encourage equity (most commonly, uniforms and facilities). Additionally, about 40% of schools surveyed students’ interests in different sports—for example, to see if they could add a sport in which girls were more interested. About 25% made changes based on requests from the sex with lower participation.

Figure Showing Estimated Percent of Public High Schools That Assessed Resources and Spending for Boys' and Girls' Teams

Q: Were schools that didn’t take steps to provide equal opportunities noncompliant with Title IX?

A: Not necessarily. When Education investigates Title IX complaints, it considers many elements of equal opportunity as well as the specific circumstances of the school.

Q: Who can help make sure schools are meeting Title IX requirements?

A: Education requires all public school districts to have a Title IX coordinator and says in its guidance that this person should work closely with (among others) the athletics administrators. But about 51% of athletics administrators said they were either unaware of, or unsupported by, their Title IX coordinator. Since Education has already put out guidance to Title IX coordinators, we recommended that it examine coordinators’ awareness and use of the guidance, and use that information to strengthen future work encouraging coordinators to work with athletics administrators.

To find out more about our work on Title IX and high school sports, check out GAO-17-754R and GAO-18-425.

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