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An ongoing struggle; Title IX revolutionized opportunities for women, but work remains to be done

Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark Title IX legislation that barred gender discrimination in education. It is worth celebrating the enormous strides women have made in athletics thanks to Title IX, but the celebration should be muted because the playing field remains uneven.

Two bills pending in Congress would help level that field by improving compliance in high school athletic programs.

The High School Athletics Accountability Act has been introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. The High School Sports Information Collection Act has been introduced by Sens. Olympia Snow, R-Maine, and Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Both pieces of legislation would require that high schools report basic data on the number of females and males participating in their athletic programs, and detail expenditures made for their sports teams. Data would be available to the public broken down by gender, race and ethnicity and include expenditures per team for equipment, travel, uniforms, facilities, training and publicity.

In addition, schools would also report the number of coaches and athletic staff members, including the gender, employment status and qualifications of those individuals.

It shouldn't be a big lift, because much of the information is already kept by schools. But making it publicly available will make clear how far women and girls have really come.

Title IX may be four decades old but the issues remain shockingly and depressingly familiar.

It may come as a bit of a surprise that despite tremendous gains since 1972, there are still yawning gaps between opportunities for boys and for girls. The participation gap has widened from 1.13 million seven years ago to more than 1.3 million today.

Another surprise: even though girls comprise half the high school population, they receive only 41 percent of all athletic participation opportunities, according to a study by the Women's Sports Foundation. The fact is that no state is providing athletic opportunities to its female athletes in numbers that are proportional to their enrollment.

Title IX has long been associated with athletics, but the words "sports" and "athletics" are nowhere mentioned in the legislation. Back then, there were many levels at which women were underrepresented. Today, there still are.

It will take the kind of public effort that propelled Title IX to create and maintain an equal playing field. Shedding light on the behind-the-scenes statistics will show how far women have really come. And how much further there is to go.