The purpose of the new scholarship program was to provide low-income residents, particularly those whose children attend schools in need of improvement or corrective action under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with "expanded opportunities to attend higher performing schools in the District of Columbia" (Sec. 303). The scholarship, worth up to $7,500, could be used to cover the costs of tuition, school fees, and transportation to a participating private school. The statute also prescribed how scholarships would be awarded: (1) in a given year, if there are more eligible applicants than available scholarships or open slots in private schools, scholarships are to be awarded by random selection (e.g., by lottery), and (2) priority for scholarships is given first to students attending SINI public schools and then to families that lack the resources to take advantage of school choice options.
The Program is operated by the Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF). To date, there have been five rounds of applications to the OSP (table 1). Applicants in spring 2004 (cohort 1) and spring 2005 (cohort 2) represent the majority of Program applicants; the evaluation sample was drawn from these two groups.3 A smaller number of applicants in spring 2006 (cohort 3), spring 2007 (cohort 4), and spring 2008 (cohort 5) were recruited and enrolled by WSF in order to keep the Program operating at capacity each year.