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Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After One Year
NCEE 2007-4009
June 2007

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

The 2004 statute established what is now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP)-the first Federal government initiative to provide K–12 education scholarships to families to send their children to private schools. The OSP 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.
  • Scholarships are renewable for up to 5 years (as funds are appropriated), as long as students remain eligible for the Program.
  • In a given year, if there are more eligible applicants than available scholarships or open slots in private schools, scholarships are awarded by lottery.
  • In making 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 of Columbia and must agree to requirements regarding nondiscrimination in admissions, fiscal accountability, and cooperation with the evaluation.

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) through a competition to operate the Program. To date, there have been three rounds of applicants to the OSP (table ES-1). However, this report, and the mandated evaluation of the Program, draws only on eligible applicants in spring 2004 and in spring 2005 (cohorts 1 and 2) and, in particular, focuses on public school applicants whose award of a scholarship was determined by lottery. Descriptive reports on each of the first 2 years of implementation and cohorts of students have been previously prepared and released (Wolf, Gutmann, Eissa, Puma, and Silverberg, 2005; Wolf, Gutmann, Puma, and Silverberg, 2006)2. With the recent addition of a much smaller third cohort of participants, as of fall of 2006, exactly 1,800 students were using Opportunity Scholarships.

Table ES-1. OSP Applicants by Program Status, Cohorts 1, 2, and 3

2Both of these reports are available on the Institute of Education Sciences' Web site at and