The federal government recently enacted its first school voucher program as a pilot project in the District of Columbia. To be eligible, students need to be entering grades K-12 and have a family income at or below 185 percent of the poverty level. Although a rigorous analysis of the Opportunity Scholarship Program’s impact on student achievement and other outcomes remains a prospect for the future, at this early point initial data exists regarding the families that are applying for the program and the students that are using and not using the voucher when offered. Here we present a preliminary analysis of those data. We find that program applicants are somewhat disadvantaged relative to non-applicants regarding educational characteristics and family income, and are more likely to be African American, than non-applicants. The fact that the program is means-tested appears to be central to the finding that it is reaching a more disadvantaged population of students. When we examine all students that received a voucher award, and compare the group of voucher users with the group of voucher decliners, we find two significant differences. First, scholarship users are educationally advantaged in important ways relative to scholarship decliners. They are much less likely to have learning or physical disabilities, and younger scholarship users evidence somewhat higher test scores than non-users in similar grades. Second, we find that scholarship non-users are more likely to report that their existing school has various specialized educational programs and more extensive facilities. Although these results suggest some measure of selectivity in the group of actual program participants, the data do not indicate conclusively if that selectivity is a function of the decisions and behavior of participating private schools or the result of the rational decisions of consumers in a newly-expanded education market.
Wolf, P. J., Eissa, N., & Gutmann, B. (2006). Who Chooses, Who Uses? Initial Evidence from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. School Choice Demonstration Project. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/scdp/34