D.C. OSP Continues to Help Most Needy Students Succeed

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D.C. OSP Continues to Help Most Needy Students Succeed

New Institute for Education Sciences report reinforces need for more aggressive program marketing

Washington D.C. (Oct. 7, 2014) — The American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice, today celebrated the success of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) and responded to a report released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

“The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program continues to serve the city’s lowest-income families and produce remarkable results,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children and former member of the D.C. City Council. “This first federally mandated report since the OSP was reauthorized in 2011 tells us that the program is working and high quality schools are participating in the program. It reminds us that the OSP is an example of funding what works in education.”

AFC released the following fact sheet about the OSP:

  • The report states that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program serves less minority students and participating private schools have more white students. According to program statistics for the 2013-2014 school year, 97.2 percent of OSP participants were African American and Hispanic.
  • From 2004-11, the maximum scholarship amount for the OSP was $7,500 for K-12, well below what many participating schools charged for tuition. When the OSP was reauthorized, the scholarship amounts were properly adjusted to $8,000 for K-8 and $12,000 for 9-12, with an adjustment for inflation each year. These amounts remain well below the average $18,000 per pupil cost in DCPS. Moreover, the OSP student graduation rate is 30 points higher than DCPS.
  • More high schools are participating in the OSP since passage of the SOAR Act, which is a good development. Between the 2012 and 2013 school year, only one less school participated in the OSP. According to the OSP administrator in the 2013-14 school year the number of participating schools remained at 52.
  • The IES report makes a reference to class sizes having increased in private schools participating in the OSP. The average student to teacher ratio in participating OSP schools is 9:1.
  • The IES report suggests demand for the OSP is lagging, which is false. There are thousands of families on charter school waiting lists in the District, many of whom are eligible for the OSP. In addition, there have been several DC public school closures in areas of the city with high concentrations of the OSP-eligible families. Applications and new enrollees are lagging because of restrictive implementation guidelines, such as prohibiting eligible children currently in private schools – including those with siblings in the program – from entering the program. The SOAR Act specifically says siblings are given enrollment preference. In addition, the OSP new application period closes in late January, before the charter school application deadline, preventing hundreds if not thousands of eligible families from considering the OSP as an option.
  • During the 2013-14 school year, 98% of enrolled OSP students were otherwise zoned for a School in Need of Improvement (SINI).
  • The District remains one of the most vibrant cities in America when it comes to parental choice. Nearly 45% of K-12 children in the District attend one of the city’s charter schools and the OSP remains a viable and critically important option for thousands more. The issue is choice – ensuring every parent, regardless of family income, can choose the best school for their child.

“This first IES report acknowledges in its own way that the OSP is working and reaching those children most in need,” added Chavous. “With several common sense changes to help with program oversight and better implementation to fully subscribe and grow the program, the OSP could be serving another 1,000 children in low-income families next year. For a program that has averaged a 93 percent graduation rate, with 90 percent of those graduates enrolling in college, and a 92 percent parent satisfaction rate since 2010, we should be doing everything humanly possible to enroll more kids in this life-changing program.”

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The American Federation for Children is the nation’s leading school choice advocacy organization and works in states across the country to help secure additional, high-quality educational options for families.

Kevin P. Chavous is a noted attorney, author, and national school reform leader. A former member of the Council of the District of Columbia and a former chairman of D.C.’s Education Committee, Chavous was responsible for enacting numerous education reforms in D.C. Chavous also presides as board chair for Democrats for Education Reform and is a former chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.