Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Secretary of Education's Letter To Congress On D.C. Voucher Program 

The letter is courtesy of the Alliance for School Choice:

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

* 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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