Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Look Back at the Education Amendments Act of 1972

Saturday is the 40th anniversary of President Nixon signing the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Given how enduring, well-known, and controversial Title IX of this law would become, it is interesting that the more controversial provision of that Act 40 years ago was actually this one:

In short, this provision would automatically postpone any court order requiring school districts to engage in busing as a means to dismantle racial segregation.  By adding this to the omnibus education bill, Congress was attempting to slow down efforts by the courts to desegreate school districts with the "deliberate speed" required by Brown v. Board of Education.

While this provision was scheduled to sunset after only a year and a half ("expir[ing] at midnight on January 1, 1974") it was nevertheless a major focal point of debate over the Education Amendments Act.  Republicans had supported a much stronger moratorium on busing orders, and the more limited version of the provision that made it into law was the product of a hard-fought compromise. One consequence of the congressional debate over the anti-busing provision may have been that members of Congress as well as the public at large were largely distracted by the busing provision to pay much attention to Title IX of the bill, allowing it to pass without much negative attention from those who would later try to weaken the law.  The day after the House vote on the Education Amendments Act, New York Times headlines shouted about the Congressional vote to "block busing." Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, by contrast, was only mentioned in a tiny paragraph.

Title IX, then, perhaps owes its inception to the political "cover" provided to it by the anti-busing provision.  Yet it is unfortunate that many members of Congress who championed Title IX had to vote against the Education Amendments Act because of their concerns about the busing provision.  This must have been particularly hard for Representative Edith Green of Oregon, who had inserted Title IX into the House version of the bill.   Congresswomen like Shirley Chisholm, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Bella Abzug, must have also hated the fact that in order to object to the obstruction of racial desegregation, they also had to vote against women's rights.  Nor could they celebrate the passage of Title IX, which in the end was coupled to a provision that undermined civil rights.  In the end, however, it was Title IX that went on to endure controversy.  And the anti-busing provision that was so controversial in June of 1972?  Got struck down by a Circuit Justice opinion less than three months later.  Still, it's worth remembering on this 40th anniversary that the same law that advanced equal education for women so tremendously in the last 40 years also threatened to delay equal education for black students in segregated schools.  

[Hat tip to my favorite Title IX historian, Sarah Fields, for pointing out this interesting aspect of Title IX's legislative history to me and others in attendance at the SHARP conference in Michigan last month.]