DC Voucher Program Moving into High Gear

Published May 1, 2004

Moving quickly so students can take advantage of the program in the school year starting this fall, the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of DC Mayor Anthony A. Williams in late March announced selection of the Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF) and Westat to administer and evaluate the first phase of the newly authorized DC Choice Incentive Program.

The program is the first federally funded program in the nation to provide “equal opportunity scholarships” to low-income students to attend parochial or private schools.

“I’m glad to see that this effort to expand school choice is moving ahead at full speed,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

Working as the lead organization in a partnership with other local nonprofit groups, WSF will begin an immediate campaign to make all eligible families in the District of Columbia aware of the voucher program. The effort will involve advertisements, mailings, door-to-door visits, and public meetings to provide information on eligibility, options, and application procedures. Local partner groups include Capital Partners for Education, DC Parents for School Choice, the Greater Washington Urban League, and the Parent Group.

“Our organization was founded just over a decade ago with the goal of expanding educational opportunities for District students. The new DC scholarship program perfectly aligns with our mission to enable families to have greater choice in where they send their children to elementary, middle, and high school,” said Joseph E. Robert, Jr., chairman and CEO of J.E. Robert Companies and chairman of the WSF Board of Trustees.

WSF was chosen to operate the program through a competitive application process overseen by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, in partnership with the office of Mayor Williams. Together with the nonprofit organization Fight For Children, Inc., the Mayor’s office already had launched an advertising campaign and started making preparations with private schools to enroll scholarship recipients in the fall.

Westat was awarded a 10-month contract by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to provide technical support to the program operator of the DC Choice Incentive Program. In collaboration with Georgetown University and Chesapeake Research Associates, Westat will assist WSF on the design and execution of the lottery that will be used to randomly assign scholarships to eligible student applicants.

A second contract will be awarded by the IES to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the program. IES expects to conduct the competition for the evaluation this spring and award the contract in June.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].