At this transformative time of equity awareness in our nation, the federal government now has more opportunities to center equity in its laws and policies. Since the summer of 2021 , Urban Institute and PolicyLink have been collaborating to create the Equity Scoring Initiative (ESI), a research project to equip legislators with the tools they need to systematically measure the future equity impact of proposed legislation. The initiative will inform legislative action, public debate, media analysis, and issue advocacy.
A scoring system that forecasts the equity impact of proposed legislation
Without a scoring system, lawmakers have no way of knowing how proposed bills could affect different groups differently. The Equity Scoring Initiative helps establish the foundation for a new legislative scoring system that measures what we value – equitable outcomes for a just society. The initiative uses a quantitative approach to measure the extent to which proposed bills can achieve equitable outcomes, and explores how to embed a quantitative measure in the legislative process.
Federal budget scoring can inform equity scoring
Budget scoring, which began with the passage of the “Budget Act” in 1974, incorporates the necessary elements to make equity scoring an effective tool for informing and shaping legislation: budget scores focus on specific policy outcomes, provide quantitative measures, and, by law, are deeply embedded in the legislative process.
Budget scoring shapes legislation by creating a formal nonpartisan process through which federal policymakers develop, coordinate, and enforce budgetary priorities when assessing bills. Approaches to budget scoring have evolved over time, reflecting enhancements in data and methods and changes in congressional priorities and rulemaking. Equity scoring would similarly follow this pathway.
Lessons learned from state and local racial equity assessments
We reviewed the nascent practice of equity assessment in state and local legislative processes and found it is primed for conceptual and methodological advancement. While states or cities passed legislation to require equity assessments, the assessments served an informational purpose but did not trigger any required action or rule. And when precedent for implementation was cited, it was primarily built on a similar budget scoring process already in place.
Most state and local assessments have clear general guidance for analysts to follow. In some examples, there was discretion in determining whether a required equity assessment needed to be conducted, while in others, the assessment was clearly required for all legislation, with named exceptions.
Over the past few decades, great strides have been made in both budget scoring and equity assessment. The initiative seeks to bring this work together to create a government that is working for everyone—a government that values equity and measures what it values. Scoring federal legislation for racial equity is possible now. Like budget scoring and equity assessment, equity scoring could be implemented using currently available data and tools and then improved over time.