Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? A Benefit/Cost Analysis of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program

Three years ago, Patrick Wolf and colleagues published a powerful defense of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP): In an IES-funded, gold-standard study, they found that merely offering a student access to a voucher through OSP increased that student’s graduation rate by 12 percentage points. Those who actually used a voucher saw their grad rates jump by 21 percentage points. This article resurrects that research—but with a twist. The authors reanalyze the data against the work that several economists have done to estimate the value of a high school diploma (based on lifetime earnings and tax payments, lifespan and health, and crime rate). Using these metrics, Wolf and co-author Mike McShane estimate the societal return on investment for the increased graduation rate afforded to the District of Columbia by the OSP. (Remember that the program is federally funded; DCPS was held financially harmless when students exited for private schools, meaning that the program’s price tag—$70 million—represented a real additional cost to all U.S. taxpayers, not just those in the District.) Analyses show that the OSP marked a net societal value of about $183 million over the lifetime of the graduates, or $2.62 in benefit for every dollar spent (though Wolf and McShane admit to working with imperfect metrics; depending on how they sliced the data, the benefit ranged from 36 cents to $7.82). Just further proof that D.C.’s voucher program is well worth it.

SOURCE: Patrick J. Wolf and Michael McShane, “Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? A Benefit/Cost Analysis of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program” (Association of Education Finance and Policy Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013).

More By Author

Related Articles