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Abstract

School vouchers are the most contentious form of parental school choice. Vouchers provide government funds that parents can use to send their children to private schools of their choice. Here we examine the empirical question of whether or not a school voucher program in Washington, DC, affected achievement or the rate of high school graduation for participating students. The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) has operated in the nation's capital since 2004, funded by a federal government appropriation. Because the program was oversubscribed in its early years of operation, and vouchers were awarded by lottery, we were able to use the “gold standard” evaluation method of a randomized experiment to determine what impacts the OSP had on student outcomes. Our analysis revealed compelling evidence that the DC voucher program had a positive impact on high school graduation rates, suggestive evidence that the program increased reading achievement, and no evidence that it affected math achievement. We discuss the implications of these findings in light of recent policy developments including the reauthorization of the OSP and the enactment or expansion of more than a dozen school voucher or voucher-type programs throughout the United States in 2011 and 2012.