DC Opportunity Scholarship Program Evaluation
The District of Columbia School Choice Incentive Act of 2003 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in January 2004. The Act provided funds for District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) improvement activities and charter school facility acquisitions. Most notably, the statute established what is now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program—the first federal government initiative to provide K–12 education scholarships, or vouchers, to families to send their children to private schools of choice. The program was re-authorized in 2011 for an additional five years.
The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program currently has the following programmatic elements:
- To be eligible, students entering grades K–12 must reside in the District and have a family income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line for initial scholarship award and up to 300 percent for scholarship renewal.
- Participating students will receive scholarships of up to $8,000 for elementary school grades and $12,000 for high school grades to cover the costs of tuition, school fees, and transportation to a participating private school of choice.
- Scholarships are renewable for up to 5 years (as funds are appropriated), as long as students remain eligible for the program and remain in good academic standing at the private schools they are attending.
- If there are more eligible applicants than available scholarships or open slots in private schools, applicants are to be awarded scholarships and admission to private schools through random selection, for example by lottery.
- Private schools participating in the program must be located in the District, and agree to program requirements regarding nondiscrimination in admissions, fiscal accountability, and cooperation with testing required for school-level accountability and program evaluation.
- An annual appropriation of $20 million is requested, sufficient to support about 2,000 scholarships per year.
The original Act required that the scholarship pilot program be rigorously evaluated by an independent research team, using the “strongest possible research design for determining the effectiveness” of the program and addressing a specific set of student comparisons and topics (Section 309). Westat, in partnership with the School Choice Demonstration Project, was selected by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) through a competitive bidding process, to perform that evaluation. A total of six official government reports were produced through the course of the evaluation, covering the first two years of program implementation and four years of impact analysis. All of those reports passed ED’s rigorous external peer-review process before being released. The primary findings of the experimental impact evaluations were that students offered access to the Scholarship Program demonstrated significantly higher rates of high school graduation than members of the control group. Regarding test scores, evidence was suggestive but not conclusive that the Scholarship program improved the reading scores of students, especially if they were female, higher-performing at baseline, and not transferring from a “needs improvement” school. The program demonstrated no significant impacts on math achievement. Parents were more satisfied and viewed their child’s school as safer if they had been offered a Scholarship; whereas the students themselves had similar views of school satisfaction and safety whether they were in the Scholarship treatment or control groups. Links to all six official government reports are provided below.
Wolf, P., Gutmann, B., Puma, M., & Silverberg, M. (2006). NCEE 2006-4003.
The District of Columbia School Choice Incentive Act of 2003 was passed by Congress in January 2004. The Act provided funds for District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) improvement activities and charter school facility acquisitions. Most notably, the statute established what is now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program—the first federal government initiative to provide K-12 education scholarships, or vouchers, to families to send their children to private schools of choice.
An evaluation of the effects of D.C.’s voucher program on public school achievement and racial integration after one year
Greene, J. P., & Winters, M. A. (2006). Education Working Paper 10 & SCDP 0601.
Stewart, T., Wolf, P. J., & Cornman, S. Q. (2005). SCDP Report 0501.
Wolf, P., Gutmann, B., Eissa, N. Puma, M., & Silverberg, M. (2005). NCEE-DCOSP05.