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This Policy Brief was co-authored by Evelyn B. Stacey, Education Studies Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.

Executive Summary

This June, dozens of students who had used D.C. Opportunity Scholarships graduated from their chosen private high schools. “We stand as examples of just how successful this program can be, and we will fight for its existence,” said Georgetown Day School graduate Jordan White, who earned a full scholarship to Oberlin College in Ohio. Her younger sister’s future is less clear.

Enacted in 2004, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has helped more than 3,000 students from low-income families do what children of Presidents and Members of Congress have always done: escape one of the country’s most expensive, dysfunctional, and dangerous schooling systems.

Overall students who have used Opportunity Scholarships, which average $6,600, to attend private schools perform a half grade ahead of their public school counterparts in reading. Students using them longer perform more than two grades ahead in reading. Little wonder, then, that more than four students applied for every available scholarship for the 2008-09 school year. Yet instead of expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and some Members of Congress want to end it.

President Obama has signaled that he is willing to allow the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program to continue, but only for current participants. No new students could apply. As it stands now, the program will end after the 2009-10 school year unless Congress acts. Bi-partisan, bi-cameral efforts are currently underway to keep the program open. Initiatives like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program help ensure that no more generations of schoolchildren have to sacrifice their futures trapped in failing schools while the grown-ups bicker about how to make things better.