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Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Second Year Report on Participation
NCEE 2006-4003
April 2006

The Program

The District of Columbia School Choice Incentive Act of 2003 was passed by Congress in January 2004. The Act provided funds for District of Columbia Public Schools' (DCPS) improvement activities and charter school facility acquisitions. Most notably, the statute established what is now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program—the first Federal government initiative to provide K–12 education scholarships, or vouchers, to families to send their children to private schools of choice.

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program has the following programmatic elements:

  • To be eligible, students entering grades K–12 must reside in the District and have a family income at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty line.

  • Participating students receive scholarships of up to $7,500 to cover the costs of tuition, school fees, and transportation to a participating private school of choice.

  • Scholarships are renewable for up to 5 years (as funds are appropriated), so long as students remain eligible for the Program and remain in good academic standing at the private schools they are attending.

  • If there are more eligible applicants than available scholarships or open slots in private schools, applicants are to be awarded scholarships and admission to private schools by random selection, for example, by lottery.

  • In making these scholarship awards, priority is given to students attending public schools designated as in need of improvement (SINI) under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and to families that lack the resources to take advantage of school choice options.

  • Private schools participating in the Program must be located in the District and must agree to Program requirements regarding nondiscrimination in admissions, fiscal accountability, and cooperation with the evaluation.

Implementation of the OSP, as analyzed in this report, took place over an 18-month period from April 2004 to September 2005. In late March 2004, the Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF), a 501(c)3 organization in the District of Columbia, was selected by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to implement the OSP, under the supervision of the Office of Innovation and Improvement in ED and the Office of the Mayor of the District of Columbia. Since then, the WSF has worked with its implementation partners2 to finalize the Program design, establish protocols, recruit applicants and schools, and place scholarship winners in participating private schools.

The funds appropriated for the OSP are sufficient to support approximately 1,700–1,800 students, depending on the cost of the participating private schools that they attend. Between students recruited during the first year who are continuing to use their scholarships and those awarded and using scholarships from the second year of recruitment, the Program is now operating at full capacity.

2 The WSF has joined with Capital Partners for Education, DC Parents for School Choice, and Fight for Children—all District-based nonprofit organizations, to assist in client recruitment and implementation activities.