Making Title IX’s Promise a Reality with The Gender Equity Education Act

The Gender Equity Education Act promises to make tangible advancements in gender equity by “creating equitable and welcoming school environments” for students.

Making Title IX’s Promise a Reality with The Gender Equity Education Act
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The Gender Equity Education Act would provide Title IX coordinators with annual trainings, information and best practices about Title IX compliance. (USAID / Flickr)

On Wednesday, June 23—the 49th anniversary of Congress passing Title IX—Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Patsy T. Mink and Louise M. Slaughter Gender Equity in Education Act of 2021 (GEEA). GEEA would provide funding and resources to finally realize Title IX’s long-awaited promise of equality in education.

The late U.S. Representative Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii)—the first woman of color elected to the House of Representatives and the first Asian woman to serve in Congress—co-authored Title IX and was the driving force behind the law’s passage. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who died in 2018, was a fierce advocate for gender equity.

“Trailblazers Patsy Mink and Louise Slaughter spent their careers demanding better opportunities for all Americans, regardless of their gender. This bill builds on their legacy by providing more funding to address sex-based harassment and discrimination in education,” said Hirono. “On the 49th anniversary of Title IX’s enactment, Congress should act now to make sure that all students can learn in safe and supportive learning environments.”

“Patsy Mink and Louise Slaughter were tireless warriors for equality and continue to serve as our north star for expanding opportunity and eradicating discrimination on the basis of sex in schools everywhere,” said Matsui. “Moving forward, it is our duty make sure that every child, regardless of gender, has the same opportunity to succeed.”

Hirono and Matsui previously introduced the legislation in the 115th and 116th Congresses.

The bill would create an Office for Gender Equity inside the Department of Education tasked with developing new gender equity initiatives in schools and addressing pressing issues experienced by women and girls in education, including access to STEM education, athletics, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and assault.

“There’s never been very much federal leadership to implement Title IX,” said Dr. Sue Klein, education equity director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who is one of the leaders of effort. “This office would correct that.”

What the Gender Equity in Education Act Will Do

According to Klein, the office would create a “proactive gender equity infrastructure of Title IX Coordinators and gender equity experts” with state Title IX coordinators, school district Title IX coordinators and hopefully a Title IX coordinator in each post-secondary and K-12 school networked together for training, assessment, and as needed, enforcement of Title IX and related civil rights laws and best practices.

“GEEA has great potential for making a comprehensive and lasting impact on improving gender equity in and through education,” said Klein. “Using existing legislation, GEEA should inspire the Education Department to establish an Office for Gender Equity and issue new guidance on the roles and responsibilities of Title IX Coordinators in a Title IX Gender Equity Infrastructure even before GEEA is passed.”

GEEA would provide critical funding to support Title IX coordinators. Nationally, the Feminist Majority Foundation has estimated at least 100,000 Title IX coordinators are needed, but a report only identified 23,000 Title IX coordinators in 2016. The Feminist Majority Foundation also found that schools serving children in prekindergarten through grade 12 rarely have their own Title IX coordinators. GEEA would provide Title IX coordinators with annual trainings, information and best practices about Title IX compliance.

“For decades, school and college-based Title IX administrators have worked diligently with the limited resources available to them to implement the aims of Title IX,” said Brett Sokolow, President of Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA). “ATIXA calls on Congress to pass the GEEA to provide Title IX administrators with the essential resources, training and financial support needed to fully deliver on Title IX’s promise of sex and gender equity in education and thanks Sen. Hirono for championing the passage of this bill.”

The bill would protect students who face discrimination based on actual or perceived sex, including sex stereotypes; pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions; and sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also focus on eliminating compounded discrimination based on race, disability, immigration, English Language Learners, LGBTQ status and poverty.

“Despite the passage of Title IX, women and girls of color continue to experience barriers to education at higher rates when compared to their white counterparts,” said Elisha Rhodes, interim CEO at YWCA USA.“If we truly intend to achieve equity in education, we must continue to provide resources and technical assistance that will center the impacts and experiences faced by women and girls of color. That begins with passage of the Gender Equity in Education Act.”

Increasing Equity in Athletics

GEEA would also support increased equity in athletics. Despite 49 years of Title IX, female participation rates in athletics still lag far behind male participation rates, especially for girls of color. Boys, for example, receive more than 1.3 million more opportunities to play high school sports than girls across the nation.

“Access to equal sports opportunities for our female students is an integral part of affording a well-rounded, effective education, as girls and young women who play sports are healthier, graduate at higher rates, and go on to experience greater workplace success as adults,” said Kim Turner, director and senior staff attorney of Fair Play for Girls in Sports, a project of nonprofit Legal Aid at Work. “GEEA can be a key component to promoting educational equality and societal wellness for all.”

GEEA allocates $160 million of funding over five years to enforce Title IX, including funding competitive grants for K-12 schools, colleges and universities, states, school districts and other educational organizations to boost Title IX compliance programs.

“Title IX became law on this day 49 years ago, and we celebrate the advances made in education to ensure that all students, including women and girls, have equal access to education,” said Shiwali Patel, director of Justice for Student Survivors and senior counsel of the National Women’s Law Center. “However, much remains to be done to eliminate sex discrimination and bias in schools, and GEEA brings us closer towards achieving this and creating equitable and welcoming school environments.”

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Chair of American Studies and a professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.