The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program seeks to enable low-income parents in the District to send their children to private schools as an alternative to the public school or schools otherwise available to them. As such, one important characteristic of the Program is the composition of the set of DC private schools that chose to accept OSP students.
Over half of District private schools have agreed to participate in the OSP.
The religious status and affiliation of the participating schools varies (figure 2-1). Of the 63 participating schools for which a religious status could be determined, 28 (44 percent) are Catholic, 14 (22 percent) are formally affiliated with a religion besides Catholicism, and 21 (33 percent) are independent private schools. Perhaps because 28 of 30 DC private schools that identify themselves as Catholic all joined the Program the first year, none of the schools that joined in year 2 are; 4 of the 10 new private schools are non-Catholic religious schools, whereas the other 6 are independent. We were unable to determine the religious status of five schools, which all joined the Program in year 1.10
The 10 schools that joined the Program in year 2 are different in several other respects from the 58 schools that have participated from the start. On average, the new schools are more likely to charge tuition above the scholarship cap of $7,500, more likely to serve one or more high school grades, have a smaller percentage of racial minorities among their student populations, and are larger than the original group of participating schools (table 2-1). The average teacher/student ratios of the two groups of participating schools are statistically similar.
The 36 District private schools that are not currently participating in the Program differ from the total set of participating schools in some respects. Nonparticipating schools are more likely to charge average tuitions above the scholarship cap, have smaller enrollments, serve a smaller minority population, and have lower student/teacher ratios than the average among the participating schools (table 2-1). The group of nonparticipating private schools includes several highly specialized schools, such as a ballet school, as well as schools that exclusively serve students with significant disabilities.
Of the 68 DC private schools that agreed to participate, 60 had OSP students enrolled in fall 2005. Eight schools were not serving OSP students at that time. Although systematic data were not collected as to the reason(s) each school did not serve OSP students, program implementation staff reported that the most common reasons include that schools: (1) determined that none of the current scholarship recipients met their entrance criteria,11 (2) had no scholarship recipients choose their school during the placement phase, or (3) filled their vacant slots before OSP recipients could be placed.
10 We were unable to identify conclusively the religious status of five participating private schools because the field for "Religious Affiliation" in the WSF School Directory database was blank for those schools, and visits to their websites did not provide sufficient information to determine their religious status.
11 According to the Program statute, participating private schools are able to maintain any admittance criteria that they apply to non-OSP students in determining which OSP students are admissible. These criteria most typically include the completion of an interview with school staff, a placement test to determine their appropriate grade level, and an agreement to conform to the schools' codes of conduct. However, 13 percent of participating schools require standardized testing results to be a part of the admissions packet, for both OSP and non-OSP students.