UPDATE: On Wednesday, July 8th, the Senate passed the High School Data Transparency Act (S.Amdt.2124) by a voice vote as an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act (a bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)). The data act, which would help ensure that girls have equal access to athletic opportunities, is now part of the ESEA reauthorization bill pending before the Senate. Senator Murray’s amendment had four other co-sponsors: Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). 

Growing up as an athlete was formative in my academic, professional, and personal development. From balancing and prioritizing multiple obligations, to practicing leadership, to learning the importance of dedication at an early age, participating in competitive sports afforded me powerful moments of growth and opportunity.

It was never lost on me that oftentimes I was the only, or one of very few, girls of color competing. However, what was lost on me was that my athletic opportunities and achievements were in fact a privilege, a privilege not afforded to thousands of girls in this country.

Even though Title IX—the law that requires gender equity in educational programs including athletics—is over 40 years old, many schools across the country still do not give girls, and in particular girls of color, equal opportunities to compete in athletics. Many schools also do not provide equal benefits and services to girls’ teams (such as facilities, equipment, and publicity). With S. 1177 (a bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)) heading to the Senate floor this week, there is a key opportunity to address this disparity in athletics.

Senator Murray Grabs the Baton

Thankfully, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) plans to introduce an amendment to the ESEA reauthorization bill that would require schools to publicly report data on athletic participation by gender and race, as well as expenditures by team. This transparency can help expose potential shortcomings in school athletic programs, and give families, communities and educators the information they need to hold schools accountable under Title IX and Title VI (the law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color and national origin).

This meaningful reporting will place almost no additional burdens on schools, as they have this information available and are already required to provide much of it to their state high school athletic associations.

Taking the Goals of ESEA over the Finish Line

Transparency in high school athletics data is fitting for the mission of the ESEA, which historically has strived to ensure that all students have opportunities to succeed in school and prepare for college and their careers.

Girls who participate in competitive and organized sports in their adolescence and into high school, compared to girls that do not, perform better on standardized tests, earn higher grades, live healthier and more responsible lifestyles, have increased career opportunities, and graduate at higher rates. Additionally, girls who participate in sports experience higher levels self-esteem and develop leadership skills.

Unfortunately, these opportunities for growth and success are not available to all girls. In fact, there are 1.3 million fewer chances for girls to participate in sports, compared to opportunities for boys nationwide. What’s more, schools that are heavily attended by students of color (i.e. schools where fewer than 10% of students are white) offer fewer overall athletics opportunities, and have even larger disparities in available athletic opportunities for girls compared to boys.

Requiring schools to report data on athletic participation and funding will expose some of the pervasive, yet overlooked, discrimination that girls, especially girls of color, face. Addressing and remedying this discrimination is not only a requirement of the law, but it is an important investment in the lives of girls across the country.

I’ll be watching the floor debate and will update this blog with new details!

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