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Building a New Foundation for Equitable Policymaking

July 26, 2022

Contributors Practices & Centers

Recent national events—the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, high inflation, labor shortages, and debates on gun control—have soberly and repeatedly reminded people in the United States that policy matters. Advocacy matters. Who’s in office matters. Voting matters.

Americans can’t sit on the sidelines. Policy decisions about health care, education, and public safety play a significant role in shaping personal, institutional, business, and programmatic behavior. Ultimately, policy decisions have lasting, multigenerational effects on the economic well-being of individuals and families.

This is especially true of introducing equity as the central frame or lens in major education and workforce policymaking. The truth is that many policies at the federal and state levels purport to and perhaps sincerely do have an intent of closing achievement gaps, leveling the playing field, redistributing funding to make up for wealth gaps between affluent communities and lower income ones. What needs to happen to make policy centered on equity be more powerful in achieving the intended goals?

But what is policy? The legislation made in Congress, decisions made by the Supreme court, and rules and regulations made by the federal government are all examples of policymaking. In general, policies are principles that guide decision-making and lead to specific outcomes. Policies can be formally enacted in laws, rules, and regulations by government entities—the federal government and state, regional, and local bodies—and policy can be influenced and developed by higher education systems, school districts, and workforce boards.

At Jobs for the Future (JFF), our mission is to help build a country where everyone has an equitable opportunity for economic advancement. JFF strives to build up the policy and advocacy capacity and expertise of our partners so that, collectively, we can advance equitable policy solutions that transform our nation’s education and workforce systems to better support today’s learners and workers.

Building A New Foundation for Equity in Policymaking

Several advocacy organizations, JFF included, have taken a closer look at what it means to design policy in a way that centers equity. Below is a curated list of eight key design principles for equitable policy, which JFF’s David Altstadt has curated based on the expertise and insights of equity experts and systems leaders including the Center for Urban Education, Associated Black Charities, Race Forward, and the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education:

8 Key Design Principles for Equitable Policy

  1. Policy names equity as the top performance priority for the government, as clearly indicated in policy language, goals, and measures, as well as through funding and budgetary decisions.
  2. Policy intentionally dismantles and replaces existing rules, practices, systems, and structures formulated for the purpose of exclusion.
  3. Policy incentivizes the development, implementation, and scaling of strategies proven to eliminate racial disparities and make measurable improvements to the conditions of Black and Latinx youth and young people experiencing poverty.
  4. Policy enforces implementation with fidelity.
  5. Policy is continuously and rigorously evaluated to assess impact on equity and measurable improvements on the conditions of Black and Latinx youth and young people experiencing poverty.
  6. Policy creates and cultivates an inclusive policymaking environment to encourage the support and participation of relevant stakeholders.
  7. Policy carries language that is asset-based to minimize the threat of harm, deficit, and stereotype reinforcement.
  8. Policy promotes culturally responsive practices so that all Black and Latinx youth and young people experiencing poverty can thrive, are seen, and are regarded in the totality of their human dignity.

Intermediaries’ Role in Equitable Policy and Implementation

For the 14 organizations that make up JFF’s Building Equitable Pathways (BEP) community, we hope these design principles will aid in our goal of leveraging policy as a tool for actualizing equity in education and the workforce across each of the organization’s unique state and regional contexts—or at least to take the next big steps needed to move in that direction.

The community of practice is asking: How can policy center racial equity to achieve better outcomes for today’s Black and Latinx youth and youth experiencing poverty? The BEP community is approaching policy change by asking two other questions: First, how can intermediaries that work directly with young people think creatively to push the boundaries of current state and federal policies to achieve equitable outcomes; and second, how can we raise our voices to challenge those who write policy to take the radical steps required to think about policy in a different way.

BEP intermediaries have substantial power to push boundaries, for example, in how they combine funding streams to focus greater resources on equity outcomes, or how they test the limits of regulations to figure out just how restrictive they really are. Subsequent blogs will provide examples from the field of BEP intermediaries using various policy vehicles like SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) funds, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act fundsnot for compliance purposes, but to push boundaries.

A lot of this work requires the field to build an entirely new foundation for policymaking, one that intentionally centers racial equity and moves from the incremental progress the field has made on more equitable education outcomes towards more fairness in opportunities and more open doors to the economic stability that leads to a good life.

Let’s Discuss

Achieving any of the eight design principles is no small feat, and achieving all in concert will require an entirely new outlook and structure for the policymaking process. JFF is committed to learning more about what it means and looks like to implement each of the above design principles with intentionality. Please reach out and share examples of efforts on any of the above design principles. Examples can be sent to We can’t let the current moment slip away without further integrating how policy is made, by whom, and its outcomes.