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. The study’s latest report, Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Two Years, found no significant differences in student achievement between those who were offered scholarships to attend a participating private school and those who were eligible for, but were not offered (as assigned by a lottery) a scholarship. However, being offered a scholarship may have improved reading test scores among three subgroups of relatively more advantaged students: those who had not attended a School in Need of Improvement (SINI) school when they applied to the program, those who had relatively higher pre-program academic performance, and those who applied in the first year of program implementation. Students in the program did not report being more satisfied or feeling safer than those who were not in the program. However, the program 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 and when estimating the effects of attending private school versus public school, regardless of whether an Opportunity Scholarship Program scholarship was used.