Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

Institute of Education Sciences
June 2010

In 2004, Congress passed the District of Columbia School Choice Incentive Act, creating the first federally funded private school voucher program in the United States, now known as the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The purpose of the scholarship was to provide low-income students (below 185 percent of the poverty level) who attended schools in need of improvement an opportunity to attend a private school.  Upon creating the scholarship, Congress instructed that the program be assessed to determine its impact on students and families. 

This report compares the outcomes of 2,300 eligible students who were awarded a scholarship and those who were not (based on a random lottery system). Researchers looked at the impact of receiving a voucher on students’ test scores, high school graduation rates, and perceptions of school safety and satisfaction over a period of five years and found that:

  • Reading and math scores for students participating in the OSP were not significantly different than those who did not participate in the scholarship program.
  • Graduation rates of students receiving the OSP increased dramatically.  The graduation rate was 82 percent for those students receiving the OSP compared to 70 percent for those students who did not use the scholarship, resulting in a 12 percentage point difference! 
  • Parents of OSP recipients reported that their perception of school safety and satisfaction was positively influenced. 

This report is timely for Ohio, home to one of just a few voucher programs nationwide and where for the first time since its inception the EdChoice Scholarship program has reached its cap of 14,000 students. EdChoice is a scholarship available to Ohio students (in the annual amount of $4250 for elementary students and $5000 for high schoolers) who attend or would attend a public school that was rated Academic Watch or Academic Emergency for two of the last three years. If the impacts of receiving a voucher in DC can be generalized to Ohio, this is bad news for those students enrolling in the EdChoice lottery and not getting a scholarship. According to this report, it may mean they’ll be less likely to graduate. All the more reason to lift the cap and expand EdChoice Scholarship to more students in Ohio’s failing schools.

Read this report in its entirety here.

More By Author