More than 1,800 disadvantaged children in Washington, D.C., are now using federally funded tuition scholarships to attend private schools. But as the scholarship program’s congressional reauthorization approaches, whether these children will have that opportunity in the future is uncertain.
In 2004, President Bush signed legislation to create the D.C. opportunity scholarship program, which offered tuition scholarships worth up to $7,500 for students from families with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line for a family of four. Students receiving scholarships can attend any of 66 participating private schools.
Now in its third year, the program aids 1,800 students from families with an average income of $21,100, or 106 percent of the poverty line. These students’ families are some of the most disadvantaged in the community.
The scholarships have proven popular among parents. According to the Washington Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit that administers the program, nearly 6,500 students have applied for scholarships over the past three years, or about three applicants for each scholarship slot. In all, about 11 percent of eligible low-income students have applied.
So far, studies of the program’s results have been encouraging. A 2005 Georgetown University study found that many parents reported that their children “became more confident, performed better academically, and possessed increased enthusiasm after joining” the opportunity scholarship program.
A 2006 Manhattan Institute report suggested that the program would promote racial integration, as participating students would likely use their scholarships to leave more segregated public schools to attend more integrated private schools.
Next year, the most important evaluation of the program will be released. This study will determine whether the program is having an academic impact on participating children. To date, eight similar studies have evaluated similar programs across the country, comparing the test scores of students receiving vouchers to a control group of peers who remained in