NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 29, 2010

As the Obama administration and Congress move to phase out Washington D.C.'s Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), a new evaluation of the popular voucher plan, which provides scholarships of up to $7,500 per year for low-income children in the nation's capital to attend a private school of their parents' choice, finds widespread benefits for student participants, including significantly greater high school graduation rates, according to the Heartland Institute. 

Lead Institute for Education Sciences researcher Patrick Wolf says the new study underscores the positive benefits of voucher programs for students. 

"All else equal, low-income inner-city students are more likely to graduate from high school if they are provided with the opportunity to attend a private school of their parents' choosing," Wolf said.  "We can't be sure why this voucher program boosted the graduation rate of students, but the data are compelling that it did, by a lot." 

For example: 

  • Eighty-two percent of voucher students graduated high school, compared with 70 percent of students who were offered a voucher but chose not to use it; the overall high-school graduation rate in Washington, D.C., is around 50 percent.
  • Although voucher students' graduation prospects are significantly higher than those of non-voucher students, the IES evaluation found a smaller impact on test scores even though the analysis showed overall gains in reading. 

The DCOSP has been a success for students who would have otherwise been relegated to a school system in which just 17 percent of fourth graders and only 14 percent of eighth graders achieve proficiency in reading, says Wolf: 

  • Among the worst performers nationally on academic measures, D.C. public schools also have the notorious distinction of ranking among the most violent school districts in the country.
  • One in eight public school students have reported being threatened with a deadly weapon.
  • Parents whose children received a scholarship continue to be satisfied with their school and view it as safer. 

Since one of President Obama's priorities is to increase graduation rates for disadvantaged minority students, he should push to reauthorize the program immediately, says Heartland. 

Source: Lindsey Burke, "D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program Benefits Participants," Heartland Institute, June 25, 2010. 


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