Many people are surprised to learn just how much of an impact the federal government has on the educational system in America. Some of them point out, correctly, that the U.S. Constitution says that education is supposed to be something that is explicitly in the realm of the states to conduct and that the federal government should, therefore, be excluded.
However, the path from the Constitution to the current federal influence in education – including through Title IX laws and regulations dealing with sexual misconduct – is a bit more nuanced.
What the U.S. Constitution Says About Education: Nothing
The U.S. Constitution is the most important document in America because it created the federal government and turned the then-13 individual states into the United States of America. Importantly, the Constitution created the federal government as one of enumerated powers – the Constitution lays out all of the powers that the federal government has, and then expressly limits the government to just those powers. Unless the Constitution says it can do something, the federal government cannot act.
What the Constitution says about education would be critically important for all of the laws and regulations that have to do with schools in America. However, the Constitution says absolutely nothing about education. Therefore, the power to provide an education system is not one of those enumerated powers, leaving it up to the states to fill the gap.
Enter: The Fourteenth Amendment
All of that changed in the aftermath of the Civil War, though. As southern states took steps to treat different people differently, the federal government passed the Fourteenth Amendment to prevent it from happening. By forcing states to treat people equally, and by providing the federal government with the power to act to ensure it happened, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment opened the floodgates for future federal power in a huge spectrum of activities.
Including education, and Title IX.
Title IX and Sexual Discrimination in Higher Education
The Fourteenth Amendment has been used by the federal government as the impetus for all of the civil rights laws that it has passed. These include the seminal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which sought to end discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and sex; Title VI, which focused on the setting of higher education but did not prohibit sexual discrimination; and the Education Amendments of 1972, which included Title IX, to extend the prohibitions of Title VI to cover sexual discrimination in the higher education setting, as well.
Title IX Defense Lawyer and National Title IX Advisor: Joseph D. Lento
The path from a Constitution that is silent on the issue of education to Title IX regulations that are loud enough to drastically alter the course of someone's education is not always easy to follow or understand. The reality, though, is that federal input on the higher education system is here to stay.