D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program
- Enacted 2004
- Launched 2004
The District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program provides vouchers to low-income parents who choose private schools for their children. This program is America’s only private school choice program created by Congress. Learn more about the program’s details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history and more.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (Fall 2020)
of Families with Children Eligible Districtwide
Participating Schools (Fall 2020)
Average Voucher Value (2019–20)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program Participation
Vouchers are worth up to $9,161 for K–8 students and $13,742 for students in grades 9–12 for 2020–21. Those amounts increase annually with the Consumer Price Index. Vouchers first pay for tuition, with any leftover funds available for certain qualified fees that schools may require as well as for summer school. As the result of a 2019 reauthorization bill, Congress currently allocates $20 million for the voucher program, including administrative fees.
Families must be current D.C. residents. Additionally, families must either receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or earn no more than 185 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) when they enter the program ($48,470 for a family of four in 2020–21). Students may continue to receive vouchers in later years if their household income does not rise above 300 percent of the FPL ($78,600 for a family of four in 2020–21). Students are given priority if they previously attended public schools identified as one of the lowest-performing under the District of Columbia’s accountability system or if they or their siblings already are participating in the program. They may use vouchers only to attend private schools located in D.C.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program helps thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to 185% of the federal poverty line initially. Only 33% of D.C. students are eligible for a scholarship and only 1.7% of students citywide actually use a scholarship.
The average scholarship size is about $9,500, which is about 46% of the average expenditure per student at D.C.’s district schools, though the maximum scholarship size varies by grade level ($9,022 for K–8 and $13,534 for high school). Only $17.5 million in scholarships is currently appropriated annually, which is equivalent to only 1.16% of D.C.’s total K–12 revenue.
In order to expand access to educational choice, the U.S. Congress should dramatically increase the D.C. OSP’s funding and expand eligibility to all students (prioritizing scholarships based on need). Congress should also formula fund the D.C. OSP—moving away from a volatile annual appropriations process—in order to put program funding on stable footing year after year. The program could also be converted into an education savings account to ensure that all students have access to the education that’s the right fit for them, whether private school or a customized course of education.
Additionally, D.C.’s scholarship program has several unnecessary and counterproductive regulations, including removal of private school autonomy over admissions and requiring participating students to take the D.C. Public Schools assessment in grades 3 through 8. Congress should restore private schools’ admissions autonomy and allow schools to choose from a menu of nationally norm-referenced tests.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: 185 percent x FRL (300 percent x poverty to remain eligible year-to-year)
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
- Geographic Limit: District (D.C.)
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Budget Cap: $20 million
- Voucher Cap: $9,161 (K–8) / $13,742 (9–12)
- Testing Mandates: State (D.C.)
- Must not discriminate
- Comply with district health and safety codes
- Maintain a valid certificate of occupancy
- Employ core subject teachers that have a bachelor’s degree
- Be accredited and comply with other standards prescribed under the District of Columbia compulsory school attendance laws
- Allow site visits by the administering program entity
- Submit proof of financial sustainability for schools in operation for five years or fewer
- Have financial systems in place to ensure funds are used appropriately
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.