D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: Opportunity and Return on Investment
Brittany Corona /
Very few government programs can claim a positive return on taxpayer investment. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) is one of them.
Launched in 2004, the DCOSP provides scholarships of approximately $8,500 for K–8 students or $12,000 for high school students from low-income families to attend private schools of their choice.
According to a congressionally mandated evaluation of the DCOSP, 82 percent of students who received a voucher and used it to attend private school graduated from high school. That’s a 12 percentage point difference between voucher users and the control group that did not use the vouchers to attend private school. Just 70 percent of those students graduated. Roughly 60 percent of students in D.C. Public Schools graduate high school.
University of Arkansas researchers Patrick Wolf and Michael Q. McShane cite the study in National Review Online:
Multiplying the number of additional graduates by the value of a high-school diploma yields a total benefit of over $183 million.… [T]he DCOSP cost taxpayers $70 million, so dividing the benefits by the cost yields an overall benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.62, or $2.62 for every dollar that was spent.
In other words, there is a 162 percent return on each taxpayer dollar invested in the program.
Wolf and McShane also note that the increase of high school graduates yields a decrease in crime, which means lower costs for the criminal justice system. These savings, combined with the increased tax revenue made on the increased income, adds $87,000 to government coffers per high school graduate over the nine years of the DCOSP’s existence.
In their study, Wolf and McShane found that “combining the increased income and financial benefits of longevity and quality of life, a high-school diploma is worth almost $350,000 to an individual.” DCOSP is not only fiscally beneficial, but it also yields more responsible, productive, and happier citizens.
Heritage Foundation policy analyst Jason Richwine found similar results from DCOSP graduates. In a 2010 Heritage report, “D.C. Voucher Students: Higher Graduation Rates and Other Positive Outcomes,” Richwine reports that the DCOSP yields an increase in parental satisfaction, school safety, and graduation rates.
The American dream of opportunity is alive in the DCOSP, showing that freedom through school choice opens the door to a more successful future for the nation’s students.
Brittany Corona is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.