Now entering its 10th year, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which provides vouchers to students from low-income families to attend a private school of their choice, has given access to better educational opportunities to children from more than 6,000 families in the District. Nearly 100 percent of the families who received the 2012–2013 scholarship would have been zoned for an underperforming school, but they were able to choose better alternatives for their children thanks to the OSP.
The OSP’s success is undeniable. More than 91 percent of OSP students graduate from high school, and more than 90 percent enroll in a two-year or four-year college or university. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Arkansas shows that OSP provides a 162 percent return on each taxpayer dollar invested in the program.
At a recent Heritage Foundation event, some of the inaugural recipients gathered to reconnect, celebrate the first OSP college graduate, and consider options for ensuring the program’s growth so that more D.C. students can access options that meet their unique learning needs.
Jordan White is the first college graduate out of the OSP. Graduating from Oberlin College in 2013, she was an OSP recipient from 2004 to 2009. Fresh out of college, she has accepted a job working in international relations in Japan where she will translate government documents from Japanese into English and vice versa:
I’ll be in a city called Kagoshima in the southern part of Japan, probably helping them set up more English-friendly tourism around the city, maybe giving English lessons or presentations about America.
This isn’t her first time in Japan, either. As a junior in college she studied abroad in Osaka. She says that without the Opportunity Scholarship Program she wouldn’t have the opportunities she has today.
Ronald Holassie is another OSP shining star. Ronald is entering his junior year at Florida International University. He was an OSP recipient from 2004 to 2011. As a communications major, Ronald says public speaking comes easy for him after testifying twice before Congress on behalf of the OSP.
When asked whether he’d ever consider a career in politics, Ronald stated emphatically:
I’m considering that. A lot of my friends say, “You should run for office. You should get into politics.” [From] my work with the OSP and working with Virginia Walden Ford [who was instrumental in the program’s founding], I learned so much about how to advocate…. And I guess down in Florida, I kind of took that with me.… I really wanted to go to some place that’s very different, and Florida is! So when I was down there, I was able to learn a lot about the laws, the way the cities are run.
The OSP is oversubscribed with three applicants for every available scholarship. This year the number of applicants reached 1,500.
The success stories of Jordan and Ronald illustrate that children flourish when their parents can choose the educational option that best meets their individual needs. As Virginia Walden Ford says,
Educational options that give parents a chance to choose their children’s schools continue to expand across the nation. Such expansion shows the desire of mothers to see their children develop to their fullest potential.
A decade after its inception, one thing is clear: From Florida to Japan, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is taking students places.