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School Choice in the District of Columbia: Saving Taxpayers Money, Increasing Opportunities for Children, Cato Briefing Paper No. 86

School Choice in the District of Columbia: Saving Taxpayers Money, Increasing Opportunities for Children, Cato Briefing Paper No. 86

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Published by Cato Institute
Executive Summary

Members of Congress and President Bush

have put forth proposals that would establish

school voucher programs in the District of

Columbia. Those programs would allow pupils

to use vouchers to attend the parochial or private

school of their parents' choice. Could private

schools increase the range of academic options in

the nation's capital by educating students currently

attending District of Columbia public

schools?



An analysis of the private and parochial

schools in the metropolitan Washington, D.C.,

area reveals the following:

Private schools in Washington and sur-rounding

areas charge less on average than

the D.C. public school system spends per

pupil.

The D.C. public school system, which has

suffered from overspending and budget

deficits in the last few years, could find its

enrollment reduced by almost 10 percent

as a result of a voucher program.

Private schools in Washington could

immediately accommodate about 2,925

students now attending public or charter

schools. Allowing all independent and

parochial schools in the Washington metro

area to participate in a school choice program

could add almost 3,500 more spaces,

since there are more than 6,000 seats available

in local, nonpublic schools.
Executive Summary

Members of Congress and President Bush

have put forth proposals that would establish

school voucher programs in the District of

Columbia. Those programs would allow pupils

to use vouchers to attend the parochial or private

school of their parents' choice. Could private

schools increase the range of academic options in

the nation's capital by educating students currently

attending District of Columbia public

schools?



An analysis of the private and parochial

schools in the metropolitan Washington, D.C.,

area reveals the following:

Private schools in Washington and sur-rounding

areas charge less on average than

the D.C. public school system spends per

pupil.

The D.C. public school system, which has

suffered from overspending and budget

deficits in the last few years, could find its

enrollment reduced by almost 10 percent

as a result of a voucher program.

Private schools in Washington could

immediately accommodate about 2,925

students now attending public or charter

schools. Allowing all independent and

parochial schools in the Washington metro

area to participate in a school choice program

could add almost 3,500 more spaces,

since there are more than 6,000 seats available

in local, nonpublic schools.

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Published by: Cato Institute on Mar 26, 2009
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School Choice in the District of Columbia
Saving Taxpayers Money, Increasing Opportunities for Children
by Casey J. Lartigue Jr.
Casey J. Lartigue Jr. is an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute.
No. 86
Members of Congress and President Bushhave put forth proposals that would establishschool voucher programs in the District of Columbia. Those programs would allow pupilsto use vouchers to attend the parochial or privateschool of their parents’ choice. Could privateschools increase the range of academic options inthe nation’s capital by educating students cur-rently attending District of Columbia publicschools?An analysis of the private and parochialschools in the metropolitan Washington, D.C.,area reveals the following:
Private schools in Washington and sur-rounding areas charge less on average thanthe D.C. public school system spends perpupil.
The D.C. public school system, which hassuffered from overspending and budgetdeficits in the last few years, could find itsenrollment reduced by almost 10 percentas a result of a voucher program.
Private schools in Washington couldimmediately accommodate about 2,925students now attending public or charterschools. Allowing all independent andparochial schools in the Washington metroarea to participate in a school choice pro-gram could add almost 3,500 more spaces,since there are more than 6,000 seats avail-able in local, nonpublic schools.
September 19, 2003
 
Introduction
Despite the presence of “free” public schools,many parents across the country make financialsacrifices to enroll their children in independentand religiously affiliated schools. According tothe National Center for Education Statistics,about 11 percent of children attend privateschools. In fall 2001 an estimated 47 million stu-dents were enrolled in 92,000 public schools;and 5.9 million students were enrolled in 27,200private schools.
1
There are many reasons forfamilies to choose private schools, and dissatis-faction with the quality of education in the pub-lic schools is certainly one of them.Such dissatisfaction is particularly acute inthe nation’s capital, where public education isin crisis. Children in the District of Columbiapublic schools have been underachievingaccording to just about every educationalachievement measure.In 2002 D.C. public school students aver-aged a total score of 796 out of 1600 on theScholastic Assessment Test. In comparison, asTable 1 indicates, the national average was1020 and D.C. private school students aver-aged about 1200 on the SAT (1188 for reli-giously affiliated schools, 1210 for indepen-dent schools). Table 2 shows that the D.C.public school average was 224 points belowthe national average of 1020 on the SAT andabout 400 points below the average of D.C.’sprivate school students. Instead of narrowing,the gap between the national average andD.C. public schools has increased from 203 to224 points since 1998.
2
The gap has alsowidened between D.C.’s public and privateschools.On the Stanford 9 achievement test in2002, 24 percent of D.C. students read and36 percent performed math at the “BelowBasic” level, demonstrating little or no mas-tery of fundamental knowledge and skills
2
Dissatisfactionwith the Districtof Columbia’spublic schoolshas led manyparents to taketheir children outof those schools.
Table 1SATScores forPublic, Independent, and Religious Schools in Washington, D.C.,1998–2002
School19981999200020012002Public811813822798796Independent11831194118411871210Religious11701177120012001188U.S. average10171016101910201020
Source: Paul L. Vance, "AFive-Year Statistical Glance at D.C. Public Schools: School Years 1996–97 through2000–01," February 2002. Copies of this report can be obtained from the D.C. Board of Education.
Table 2The SATGap, in Total Points, between the D.C. Public Schools and the NationalAverage, Scores forD.C. Religious Schools, and Scores forD.C. Independent Schools,1998–2002
School19981999200020012002Independent372381362389414Religious359364378402392U.S. average206203197222224
Source: Paul L. Vance, "AFive-Year Statistical Glance at D.C. Public Schools: School Years 1996–97 through2000–01," February 2002. Copies of this report can be obtained from the D.C. Board of Education.
 
appropriate to their grade level. More than 70percent of 10th and 11th graders performedmath at the “Below Basic” level. On theNational Assessment of Educational Pro-gress, D.C. students scored well below thenational average, with more than 85 percentof students scoring at the “Basic” or “BelowBasic” level.
3
Also, according to the StateEducation Agency, 37 percent of District res-idents read at or below the 3rd-grade level.
4
In a more targeted comparison, data fromsix urban school districts (the District of Columbia, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, LosAngeles, and New York) were compiled forthe NAEP 2002 Trial Urban District Assess-ment in reading and writing at grades 4 and8
5
(Tables 3 and 4). All of the urban districtsperformed below the national average, withD.C. scoring at the bottom in most cate-gories.
6
Dissatisfaction with the District of Columbia’s public schools has led many par-ents to take their children out of thoseschools. About 30 percent of children attend-ing schools in the District of Columbia go toschools outside the traditional public schoolsystem. An estimated 11,000 residents attendcharter schools.
7
About 18,000 students(about half of whom are D.C. residents) attendreligiously affiliated and independent schoolsin the District.In response to the public schools’ troubles,some observers have proposed that D.C. intro-duce a school choice program. The mayor andthe president of the D.C. Board of Educationcited the failure of the D.C. public school sys-tem as a reason for ending their opposition tovouchers.
8
The president and members of Congress have proposed school choice plansthat would allow families to use federal educa-tion dollars to buy education services fromprivate providers, further increasing educa-tional options. Because private schools chargeless on average than public schools spend andoften subsidize tuition for low-income stu-dents, taxpayers in the District would realizesavings, and students would have more educa-tional opportunities.
9
3
In response tothe publicschools’ troubles,some observershave proposedthat D.C. intro-duce a schoolchoice program.
Table 3NAEP2002 Trial Urban District Assessment, Reading
Percentage at or above BasicPercentage at or above Proficient
4th Graders
National (public)6230Central city (public)5121Atlanta 3512Chicago 3411Houston4818Los Angeles 3311New York City4719District of Columbia3110
8th Graders
National (public)7431Central city (public)6423Atlanta 428Chicago 6215District of Columbia4810Houston 5917Los Angeles 4410
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of EducationalProgress (NAEP), 2002 Trial Urban District Reading Assessment.Note: According to NCES, data are not reported for New York at the eighth grade due to a low response rate.

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