Parents Report Improvements and Concerns in Georgetown Study on DC Voucher Program

Washington, D.C. - The School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute released today its second qualitative report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a federally funded initiative for low-income families living in the District of Columbia. The report, titled "The Evolution of School Choice Consumers: Parent and Student Voices on the Second Year of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program," provides responses from participating families indicating improvements in the program's operations and progress in the number of parents acting as confident and well informed school choice consumers.

"This qualitative study provides unprecedented insight into the early stage experiences of families participating in the first federally funded voucher program," said Georgetown University assistant research professor Stephen Q. Cornman, co-author of the study. "The participating students and parents expressed greater enthusiasm for the Program in its second year, citing improvements in information sources, financial policies and procedures, and communication between parents and their children, independent schools and the program administrator. The majority of parents emphatically stated that their parental involvement dramatically increased when their children entered the OSP program."

The SCDP team of researchers obtained their data through a series of personal interviews and focus group discussions with parents and older students from approximately 100 families participating in the OSP during the 2005-2006 academic year.

"By far, the greatest concern of participating families was that increased earnings might make them ineligible for their Opportunity Scholarships," said co-author Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas noting that Congress has amended the law to limit the number of families in danger of earning out of the Program.

Participants shared their thoughts on a variety of issues, including the opportunities and challenges they experienced in their new schools. "We observed an increased level of confidence in parents and students as they articulated their thoughts about their second year experiences with the OSP," said Thomas Stewart, senior research associate at the SCDP and co-author of the study. "The families noted measurable improvements in their children's attitudes and behaviors towards learning, and they were very enthusiastic about keeping their children in the Program for at least one more year."

The report's key findings include:

* Families report being active, well informed school choice consumers. Parents actively utilize their school choice consumer skills to find the perfect match for their children when choosing schools

* Parents reported greater involvement in their child's education since entering the OSP, specifically in the areas of homework and parent teacher conferences. The vast majority of parents however, say they do not formally participate in organized parent groups.

* Parents noted increased communication with their children since entering the OSP, including soliciting input and support from their children during the school selection process.

* Many parents expressed the view that OSP has resolved the concerns noted during the initial year of implementation, such as ambiguity about financial policies and student confidentiality.

* Parents share a growing concern that they will lose eligibility for the program for various reasons including an increase in earnings and the scarcity of slots at the high school level.

* A sizable majority of parents are satisfied with their school choice experiences, and approximately ninety percent of participants in the study indicated that they were certain to remain in the Program for at least another year.

SCDP's research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation through a grant to Georgetown University. The report is available on the SCDP's Web site at: http://www.georgetown.edu/research/scdp/ . A summary version of the report is also available in both English and Spanish.

About the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), launched during the fall of 2004, is the country's first federally sponsored K-12 scholarship initiative, offering low-income students the opportunity to attend one of the 58 participating DC private schools of their choosing at public expense. Eligible applicants are selected through a lottery system to receive annual scholarships valued at $7,500 per year. The OSP is managed by the Washington Scholarship Fund, a non-profit organization in DC, under contract with the U.S. Department of Education.

About the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) The School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP), based within the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI), is an education reform research effort devoted to the non-partisan study of the effects of school choice and other education policy. The center is staffed by leading education reform researchers and scholars. SCDP's national team of researchers, institutional research partners and staff are devoted to the rigorous evaluation of school choice and other education reform efforts across the country. SCDP is currently collaborating with other research agencies on the official quantitative examination of DC Opportunity Scholarship Program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Services, to be released in 2007. For more information on SCDP, visit: http://www.georgetown.edu/research/scdp/.

About Georgetown University

Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in America, founded in 1789 by Archbishop John Carroll. Georgetown today is a major student-centered, international, research university offering respected undergraduate, graduate and professional programs on its three campuses in Washington, DC. For more information about Georgetown University, visit www.georgetown.edu.

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Washington Scholarship Fund

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 16, 2007 CONTACT: Ed Greenberger (202) 466-7391

New Georgetown Study Says Families Extremely Pleased With D.C. Scholarship Program

* Parents very satisfied with children's self esteem, work ethic, attitudes toward learning

* Parents' involvement has dramatically increased since children entered program

* Parents skills in evaluating educational choices grow significantly

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A study released today by Georgetown University indicates that the parents of students in the federally funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program are becoming more active consumers of education, more involved in their children's education, and are communicating better with their children. The study also shows that most parents with students in the program are very satisfied with their experience due to the transformation of their children's attitudes about learning.

"This study shows that the District's families will rise to the task to ensure the best education possible for their children," said Joseph E. Robert, Jr., chairman of the Board of Directors of the Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF), the organization administering the program. "This program has been a resounding success in every way. These students are thriving academically and their parents have become more involved in their children's lives, both in and out of school."

This qualitative academic study of D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program families' experiences was done through personal interviews and focus groups of a randomized sample of the families of 180 students.

According to the study:

* Parents of scholarship students were "emphatic" about the dramatic increase in their involvement with their children's life experiences after they entered the program.

* The program's parents are developing critical consumer skills - such as evaluating the options for their children's education - and are maximizing their benefits. Parents are remaining active after they make their initial decisions, continually evaluating their choice and recognizing that they have options.

* Parents were enthusiastic about the improved communication with their children since they entered the program, and said their children's communication skills are greatly improved.

* Parents of scholarship students reported great satisfaction with the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and their children's schools based on their children's improved attitudes toward learning, their work ethic, and their high levels of self esteem.

"WSF staff work one-on-one with families from the minute they apply," said WSF's Interim CEO Greg Cork. "Our goal is to expand their resources as much as possible, and help them navigate what is often a new educational landscape."

The study, which was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, reports that many families were able to choose a school for their children by evaluating class size and teacher qualifications. The majority of parents were extremely satisfied with their experience in the program.

Many parents expressed concerns that they could lose their child's scholarship due to small changes in income or family structure. However, legislation passed by Congress in December (after the study's interviews and focus groups were completed) allows only families that are in the federally mandated evaluation to earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. As a result, more than 300 students who stood to lose their scholarships in the next three years will be able to keep them. Losing these students threatened the evaluation because they would have been studied as if they could have used the scholarship, thereby compromising the study. The average household income of a D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program student is 112 percent of the federal poverty level - far below the income cap for entering students, which is 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

In its third academic year, more than 1,800 low-income D.C. students enrolled in 58 participating District of Columbia schools. The average annual household income of these students is approximately $21,000 - 106% of the poverty level. Scholarship students receive up to $7,500 per year to pay for tuition, transportation and school fees at participating D.C. schools. The federal legislation that created the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program also provides additional funds for D.C. Public Schools and D.C. public charter schools.

The Washington Scholarship Fund, founded in February 1993, is committed to providing low-income Washington, D.C. families a choice in where they send their children to elementary, middle, and high school and to helping fulfill the promise of equal educational opportunity for all. During the past 13 years, WSF has provided nearly $31 million in scholarships to more than five thousand students through the federally funded Opportunity Scholarship Program and the privately funded Signature Scholarship Program.

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1100 17th Street, NW, Suite 330 | Washington, DC 20036 | 202.222.0535 (p) | 202.222.0543 (f) www.washingtonscholarshipfund.org