A large portion of the applicant pool and the impact sample received scholarships through the lotteries. These students are expected to use the funds to attend a participating private school of their choice. However, Opportunity Scholarship usage rates have varied by cohort, participant sample, and over time (table 3-6):
As noted above, scholarship usage rates also are associated with the type of school the scholarship recipients previously attended and the grade they are entering. Across both cohorts, initial use of scholarships was lowest among students from SINI schools (69 percent) and, not surprisingly, highest for students who were already attending private schools when they applied for a scholarship (88 percent) (table 3-7). Scholarship usage rates differed even more based on grade band. Initial usage was highest among students entering K–5 (79 percent), somewhat lower among students entering 6–8 (69 percent) and lowest among students entering 9–12 (51 percent).
Scholarship usage rates are important to the evaluation of a policy intervention for two reasons. First, usage rates send an initial signal regarding the level of enthusiasm of clients toward the program and their ability to navigate the steps necessary for their children to make use of the program. Second, one of the impact questions the evaluation is designed to address is "what is the impact of actually attending a private school via a scholarship program?" When program usage and persistence rates are relatively high, the approach for determining program efficacy can more clearly stem from the randomly assigned groups of students. The lower the rates of use, the more the evaluators have to deviate from the random assignment and the greater the potential for inaccurate estimates. That important issue and the other central research questions associated with this evaluation will be addressed with initial outcome data in the next report to Congress.
21 The initial scholarship usage rate was 82 percent in New York City, 78 percent in Dayton, Ohio, and 68 percent in Washington, DC, for the earlier experimental evaluation of private scholarship programs in those three cities. Voucher usage rates were 61 percent in the first year of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and estimated to be about 50 percent in the first year of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program. See Howell et al., The Education Gap, 44; John F. Witte, First Year Report: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (University of Wisconsin-Madison, November 1991), 3; John F. Witte, Andrea B. Bailey, and Christopher A. Thorn, Second Year Report: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (University of Wisconsin-Madison, December 1992), 8; Paul E. Peterson and Bryan C. Hassel, eds., Learning From School Choice (Washington, DC: Brookings, 1998), 360.