Under No Child Left Behind, thousands of public school students in the District are eligible to transfer out of their low-performing public school system into a better public school. But the Washington Post reports today that only 34 students have currently applied for a transfer. The story highlights both the limits of the NCLB public school choice option and the need for greater school choice options for D.C. families.

Giving families the right to transfer their children out of low-performing public schools was one of the promising provisions of No Child Left Behind. But after nearly six years, evidence suggests that nationally less than one percent of all eligible students have benefited from public school choice under NCLB.

One reasons for the low participation rate nationally (and in D.C) is poor or late notification. The Department of Education reported that a survey of parents in 8 school districts found that only 27 percent of eligible students had been notified about the public school transfer option.

Another likely reason is the lack of space in high performing public schools. As the Washington Post reported about the lack of options in DC:

The nearly 5,000 children in the District’s 11 floundering middle and junior high schools have just two choices under the No Child Left Behind option: Deal and Hardy. For the nearly 20,000 children at the 48 elementary schools under some kind of federal sanction, there are 11 alternatives.

One way to improve school choice options for at-risk kids would be to expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program and give more children the opportunity to attend a private school of their parents’ choice. Last year, approximately 1,900 low-income students in the District will attend private schools using opportunity scholarships.The Washington Scholarship Fund reported that 83 percent of the participating students would have attended public schools that missed “adequate yearly progress” under NCLB if the program did not exist.

As the Post’s story today shows, many more kids could benefit. Evidence of this is the high demand for private school scholarships. Approximately 7,200 students have applied for tuition scholarships through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program since it began in 2004—about four applications for each scholarship.

It’s clear that many more families would benefit from the opportunity to send their children to private school. District leaders and Members of Congress should implement policies to give all District families the opportunity to choose good schools for their children. We presented options for how policymakers could expand school choice in a recent Backgrounder report.