New public information on interscholastic sports spending comes courtesy of Pennsylvania Act 82 of 2012, an amendment to the state school code that included the “Athletic Disclosure Act.”
The impetus for the state disclosure act was to help assure that school districts are complying with the federal law known as Title IX, passed in 1972, which requires gender equity in all educational institutions receiving federal funds.
But how is “compliance” measured?
It’s not about equal spending on boys and girls sports, said Sue Frietsche, a senior staff attorney with the Women’s Law Project in the Pittsburgh office.
The law, and proponents of it, acknowledge some sports activities are simply more expensive than others — football being a prime example. So compliance is measured through a more complex three-prong approach.
“You look at the opportunities. How many opportunities are there for girls to play and for boys to play,” Frietsche said. “If you have a school made of 51 percent girls, ideally 51 percent of the athletic slots would be available to girls. Typically that’s not the case.”
“Title IX doesn’t require perfect proportionality,” she added.
Even if a school is found to be heavily favoring boys sports programs and opportunities for girls are disproportionate to their enrolment, a school can still comply with Title IX by proving it has been steadily increasing the opportunities for girls.
But that has become more difficult the older the law becomes.
Schools may have gone through a flurry of expansion in girls sports through the decades after the law and had little need or demand for any additions in recent years. Which is why the law has a third prong in measuring compliance.
“You can still escape liability if you can show that, even if you are not providing equal opportunity, you are fully meeting the interests and abilities of the girls in sports,” Frietsche said.
In theory, the new disclosure reports allow anyone to readily gauge compliance through the first two prongs. The reports include total enrolment, participation in all sports, spending on each sport, and a history of when programs were started or dropped.
A Times Leader review of the reports for Luzerne County districts found several concerns in the participation data involving duplication and omissions that made detailed analysis problematic, but an overall comparison of sports participation and enrolment was done for most districts
Wyoming Valley West and Wyoming Area were not included because the omissions were substantial in some sports. Wyoming Area had no participation numbers for any girls sports. Technology Director Jason Jones said the data had been submitted to the state but apparently did not make it into the final report, a problem he was trying to get fixed. Wyoming Valley West lacked participation data for sports in the middle schoool level. Athletic Director Sandy MacKay said some ommissions were an error, but many numbers were absent because he had listed those team members under junior varsity of freshman teams
In most cases, Luzerne County districts overall had similar ratios of boys and girls in enrollment and sports participation.
A quick look at the dates each sport was introduced at area high schools shows the overwhelming majority were started prior to 2000. Four districts have introduced five or more programs since, though in several cases it was a single sport listed for different grades.
Of those four districts, three — Crestwood, Hanover Area and Northwest Area — launched more programs for girls than for boys, while Hazleton Area introduced an equal number of each.
There is one more component to Title IX compliance “that looks beyond these numbers,” Frietsche said.
“How are you treating the athletes? You don’t have to treat every sport the same, but on the whole, is the girl’s athletic program as good as the boys? This covers almost everything you can think of, uniforms, playing fields, publicity, all kinds of things,” she said.
Despite the fact that the law was introduced with Title IX in mind, the state’s new disclosure act makes no mention of the federal mandate. In an email, Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said that “the department does not intend to use the survey results for any compliance efforts.”
Frietsche contends the new reports are still valuable, making it easier for parents, students and taxpayers to see how districts are spending sports dollars, and giving districts a “self assessment showing whether they are really complying with their Title IX obligations.”