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National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

Evaluation of the Impact of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) is the first federally funded voucher program in the United States, providing scholarships of up to $7,500 for low-income residents of the District of Columbia to send their children to local participating private schools.

The congressionally mandated evaluation of the Program compared the outcomes of about 2,300 eligible applicants randomly assigned to receive or not receive an OSP scholarship through a series of lotteries in 2004 and 2005. This final report finds that the Program had mixed longer-term effects on participating students and their parents, including:

  • No conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement overall, or for the high-priority group of students who applied from "schools in need of improvement."
  • The Program significantly improved students' chances of graduating from high school, according to parent reports. Overall, 82 percent of students offered scholarships received a high school diploma, compared to 70 percent of those who applied but were not offered scholarships. This graduation rate improvement also held for the subgroup of OSP students who came from "schools in need of improvement."
  • Although parents had higher satisfaction and rated schools as safer if their child was offered or used an OSP scholarship, students reported similar ratings for satisfaction and safety regardless of whether they were offered or used a scholarship.

The evaluation also found that the cumulative loss of students between 2004 and 2009 from DC Public Schools (DCPS) to the Program was about 3 percent. In contrast, an estimated 20 percent of students annually change schools or leave DCPS. Thus, OSP-related transfers to private schools may not have been distinguishable from the larger share of other student departures.

PDF File View, download, and print the report as a PDF file (2.3 MB)
PDF File View, download, and print the executive summary as a PDF file (748 KB)
PDF File View, download, and print the four-page study snapshot as a PDF file (776 KB)