The nation’s capital is the only city in the country where the federal government gives scholarships to underprivileged children to attend private schools. The goal of the voucher program, of course, is to help ensure low-income youth aren’t tethered to their often under-resourced and under-performing neighborhood schools.
But a report released Thursday found largely negative results for students who participated in the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, suggesting that many of the program’s beneficiaries might actually fare better if they turn down the private-school money.
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) compared test scores for two groups of students: students who, through a lottery process, were selected to receive vouchers, and students who applied for yet didn’t receive them. The study compared the progress of both groups of students from spring of 2012 to 2014 and found that, a year after they applied for the scholarship, math scores were lower for students who won vouchers. What’s more, after narrowing the pool of students down to those in kindergarten through fifth grade, both reading and math scores were lower for students who won vouchers.
While students’ shortcomings in test scores—especially in math—may complicate the Trump administration’s path to elevating voucher programs, the administration remains committed to fully funding vouchers and expanding access to similar options nationwide. President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would add $1.4 billion to school choice—which includes voucher programs and charter schools—with the goal of “ramping up to an annual total of $20 billion.” The proposed budget would also specifically allocate $250 million for “a new private school-choice program,” which likely would provide vouchers. Along with these major investments in school choice, the Department of Education as a whole would receive 13 percent less funding than last year, a reduction of $9 billion.