The DC School Choice Incentive Act of 2003 established the first federally funded private school voucher program in the United States, providing scholarships of up to $7,500 for low-income residents of the District of Columbia to send their children to local participating private schools. The law also mandated that the Department conduct an independent, rigorous impact evaluation of what is now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The study’s latest report, Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years, measures the effects of the Program on student achievement in reading and math, and on student and parent perceptions of school satisfaction and safety.
The evaluation found that the OSP improved reading, but not math, achievement overall and for 5 of 10 subgroups of students examined. The group designated as the highest priority by Congress – students applying from “schools in need of improvement” (SINI) – did not experience achievement impacts. Students offered scholarships did not report being more satisfied or feeling safer than those who were not offered scholarships, however the OSP did have a positive impact on parent satisfaction and perceptions of school safety. This same pattern of findings holds when the analysis is conducted to determine the impact of using a scholarship rather than being offered a scholarship.