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Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

April 2005

Program Implementation in 2004: Recruitment and Applications

The Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF) was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of Innovation and Improvement, in partnership with the DC Mayor’s Office, to implement the program, starting in March 2004. Despite the challenges stemming from the late start of the program, the implementers recruited 58 schools to participate in the program in some capacity in 2004-05 and obtained applications from 1,848 students deemed eligible for the program.

Participating Schools

The 58 private schools participating in the program during its inaugural year represent 53 percent of all private schools in the District (Table ES-1). All but four of the schools made new slots in their schools available to scholarship winners. Four schools were willing to enroll scholarship students only if they had been accepted to the school for the 2004-05 school year prior to the launch of the scholarship program.

The characteristics of the private schools that chose to participate in the program the first year include the following:

  • Mostly religiously affiliated: about 51 percent are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, another 21 percent are affiliated with various non-Catholic religions, and approximately 28 percent are independent private schools.

  • Long established in the area: more than three-quarters of the schools have been in existence since 1983 and the most recently established participating private school opened in 2002.

  • Already serve a high proportion of students of color: on average, 82 percent of students in participating private schools are from minority racial/ethnic groups, compared to 95 percent for DCPS schools.

  • On average, have lower school size and student-teacher ratios than do DCPS schools.

  • Mostly (about 70 percent) charge tuitions that are under the $7,500 maximum provided through the federal scholarship program.

  • More likely to be religiously affiliated and serve higher proportions of students of color than are private schools that chose not to participate in the program the first year. Nonparticipating schools also tend to charge higher tuitions and have smaller class sizes than do private schools that are currently involved in the program.

Participating Families and Students

The program implementer — WSF — conducted most of the outreach to and recruitment of families between March and May 2004. Perhaps as many as 40,000 DC children were eligible for the scholarship program, based on data from the U.S. Census (Table ES-2). Inquiries about the program were made on behalf of almost 6,000 students, and nearly 2,700 applications were submitted during the recruitment period. A total of 1,848 applicants (69 percent of those who applied) provided all of the required documents and were deemed eligible for the program. Seventy-two percent of those eligible applicants were attending public school during 2003-04, whereas 28 percent were already attending private schools but met the eligibility requirements in the statute.