GAO Report: DC Voucher Program Poorly Run

Published December 9, 2013

A federal report says Washington, DC’s voucher program is poorly managed. The Government Accountability Office was especially troubled by long delays in issuing the directory of schools available within the program, a poor student database, and lack of internal oversight, said George Scott, GAO’s director of education, workforce, and income security.

GAO did not examine the impact of the Opportunity Scholarship Program itself, but its administration by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (Trust).

“The Trust isn’t getting the required help from the Department of Education in setting up the appropriate procedures, and DC regulators don’t seem to be doing their part either,” said Patrick Gibbons, a research fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

GAO also found the Trust granted many scholarships after private school application deadlines ended and ran its scholarship lottery in July, just before the school year begins.

Late Directory
In 2012-2013, “the directory was issued twelve months after the start of the school year, which … is really too late to assist families in selecting a school for that year,” Scott said.

GAO may misunderstand the directory’s purpose, said the Trust’s director, Ed Davies.

“The directory is actually used by families who are looking for a school for the next school year,” Davies said.

Database Upgrades Needed
The report said the vouchers program’s database, which tracks families who receive scholarships, is old and provides inaccurate information.

The database was created when the program began, around 2004, and for “a much smaller program,” Davies said. The database structure needs to be upgraded, he acknowledged, “but the information about the kids in the database is correct.”

He said the Trust can’t upgrade until Congress sends extra money.

Good External Results
“We will continue to monitor the program,” Scott said.

Davies said he found the GAO report helpful, pointing out where the Trust could improve.

The voucher program itself is doing well, said Lindsey Burke, the Heritage Foundation’s education policy fellow.

“A congressionally mandated evaluation of the [program] found that 91 percent of voucher recipients who used their scholarship to attend a private school of choice graduated high school,” noted Burke.

National graduation rates hover around 75 percent, Burke said: “Parents have also consistently reported high levels of satisfaction with the OSP.”


Read more:
“District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program: Actions Needed to Address Weaknesses in Administration and Oversight,” GAO, September 2013:

Image by Omar Barcena.