Transmittal Letter to Congress for the Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: First Year Report on Participation

April 5, 2005

Dear: Member of Congress

I am pleased to present to you the Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: First Year Report on Participation. This is the first in a series of annual reports mandated by the DC Choice Incentive Act of 2003. The report was prepared by the Department's Institute of Education Sciences.

This report provides baseline data on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. It describes the purposes and design of the scholarship program, the first-year implementation activities, and the characteristics of both applicants and scholarship users. It does not provide impact information, as the initial cohort of participants has not yet completed its first academic year in the program. However, it does provide an important foundation for the later examination of program impacts.

Some of the most significant data presented include:

  • Even with limited time for outreach, 58 schools agreed to participate in the program. Most are long established in the District; more than three-quarters have been in existence over 20 years. Compared to similar scholarship programs, this is a more diverse group of participating private schools, including a greater proportion of schools that are not religiously affiliated (28 percent versus 4 percent in Cleveland, a city with a long history of choice programs).

  • 2,700 applications were submitted to participate in the program, of which 1,848 were determined to be complete and eligible. 1,366 scholarships were awarded, and by September 2004, 1,027 had matriculated into their preferred school. This "usage rate" of 75 percent is at the high end of the range for similar programs.

  • 433 public school students who would otherwise have been attending schools "in need of improvement" under No Child Left Behind were awarded scholarships.

  • Applicants to the program are substantially more economically disadvantaged than are DCPS students overall.

  • A majority of public school parents who applied to the program cited "academic quality" as the primary reason why they wanted to choose a new school. A high percentage of parent applicants, especially those with children attending schools "in need of improvement," identified fighting and tardiness as serious problems at their current schools.

If you or your staff would like a briefing on this report, or if you have any further questions, please have your staff contact Sandra Cook in the Department's Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs at 202-401-0137 or


Margaret Spellings

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Last Modified: 04/05/2005