Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

An Early Look at Applicants and Participating Schools Under the SOAR Act

A new report from the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance explores implementation of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) in the first few years after Congress reauthorized it with some changes in 2011. The OSP, established in 2004, is the only federally-funded private school voucher program for low-income students in the United States.

Selected key findings are as follows:

(1) Just over half of all DC private schools participated in the first two years of the SOAR Act. Compared to earlier years of the program, the share of DC private schools participating has declined (from a high of 65 percent in 2005-2006 to the current 54 percent in 2012-2013). A growing number of participating schools have published tuition rates above the OSP scholarship amounts: 64 percent in 2011-2012 versus 39 percent in 2005-2006.

(2) Recent OSP applicants represent fewer than 5 percent of eligible DC students. The proportion of eligible applicants from low-performing “schools in need of improvement” (SINI schools) – the key legislated priority group – was lower than the proportion of eligible DC students attending SINI schools (64 percent versus 75 percent), largely because of the number of students already enrolled in private schools who applied to the OSP in 2011-2012.

(3) A number of awarded scholarships go unused. About 7 in 10 applicants receiving scholarships for the first time enrolled in a private school. Students from disadvantaged schools and families use awarded scholarships at lower rates than others. For example, those applying from SINI schools were less likely to use their scholarship (65 percent) than were eligible applicants from non-SINI public schools (73 percent) or from private schools (90 percent).

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