The Indianapolis-based group that is the nation’s foremost advocate for publicly funded private school tuition vouchers has a new name: EdChoice.

That transition, announced Friday as part of a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of what had been known as the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, is one of two big milestones reached over the weekend by influential Indianapolis organizations that have pushed for vouchers, charter schools and other educational changes.

On Sunday, the Mind Trust reached its 10th anniversary. That group was founded by former Mayor Bart Peterson and his top education adviser David Harris to continue their work to support growth of charter schools in the city, more autonomy for schools in Indianapolis Public Schools and broader educational changes.

Here’s more on the two organizations and the what they are saying about the changes:

EdChoice

At its start in 1996, the foundation was created to advocate for Milton Friedman’s vision of universal school choice, primarily through private school tuition vouchers.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist famous for popularizing market-based solutions to a variety of policy problems, had first proposed the idea of vouchers in a famous 1955 paper that said parents should all be given the state subsidy set aside for a public education for their children and allowed to apply it to any school, public or private. He argued the competition among schools would spur innovations and higher quality offerings.

Gov. Mike Pence poses with students from Indianapolis' St Therese Little Flower Catholic School at an annual school choice rally sponsored by the Friedman Foundation in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Gov. Mike Pence poses with students from Indianapolis’ St Therese Little Flower Catholic School at an annual school choice rally sponsored by the Friedman Foundation in 2015.

Nothing like Friedman’s original idea of universal vouchers has ever been tried. But more than 30 states have some sort of voucher program today. Indiana’s voucher program for general education students is the largest of its kind with more than 30,000 participants.

The push for vouchers has sparked a backlash from teachers unions and advocates of traditional public schools, who argue they drain away money needed to assure public schools can provide high quality programs.

They also question whether public funds should go to religious schools — the top destination for Indiana parents using vouchers.

The backlash has turned the issue into one of the most divisive in American education. Even many advocates of charter schools and critics of teachers unions oppose vouchers.

Dropping the Friedman name gives the organization a chance to build a new brand. On Friday, David Friedman said his late parents worried that the foundation’s fidelity to their original vision could fade over time, so they stipulated that after 20 years it either shut down or change its name.

“I came here tonight is to make it clear this is not a matter of rejection my parents but doing what they wanted done,” he said.

The organization’s CEO, Robert Enlow, said the revamped foundation would aim for an even stronger push on its advocacy in Indiana, and seek out new partners across the political spectrum.

“We will reach out and work with anyone and everyone to advance educational choice for all,” he said.

(EdChoice also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

The Mind Trust

Over the last decade, The Mind Trust both became perhaps the most influential private sector force for educational change in Indianapolis and also emerged as a national model for non-profits that aim to influence decision making in education in cities across the country.

“Systemic education change — while an arduous, time-intensive and sometimes disappointing process — is possible, and it is thriving today in Indianapolis,” Harris said of the organization’s efforts.

STEMNASIUM’s founder, Tariq Al-Nasir and Ivy McCottry, a senior marketing product manager at At&T who advises the program, pitch their ultimately winning idea for a new charter school to a panel of judges today at a Mind Trust competition at the Indiana Landmarks Center in Indianapolis.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
STEMNASIUM’s founder, Tariq Al-Nasir and Ivy McCottry, a senior marketing product manager at AT&T who advises the program, pitch their ultimately winning idea for a new charter school to a panel of judges at a Mind Trust competition.

In its early years, the organization aimed to support the fledgling charter school movement started by Peterson, who had persuaded the legislature to make him the only mayor in the country with the power to award charters, and pressure Indianapolis Public Schools to make changes. Since its founding, the Mind Trust has invited education entrepreneurs to try their ideas in Indianapolis by offering thousands of dollars of support for planning and seeded organizations with education reform at the center of their missions.

For example, the group’s support helped Teach For America launch an Indiana region, placing recent college graduates as teachers in high poverty Indianapolis schools.

Critics of the group say the Mind Trust pushes an agenda that undermines teachers unions and traditional public schools. They argue that it has become too influential, particularly when it comes to decisions at IPS. Six of the seven current school board members received support from Mind Trust-connected individuals or organizations in the last two elections, including from the lobbying arm of the parent advocacy group Stand For Children, which The Mind Trust helped bring to Indiana.

In 2011, The Mind Trust issued a report calling for radical changes in the way Indianapolis Public Schools are organized and operated. Among their proposals was empowering principals with more decision making control, reduced administrative spending, a new initiative aimed a recruiting talented educators and expanded preschool offerings. At the time, the report was rejected by district leaders.

In 2016, most of those ideas have been endorsed by a reconstituted school board and a new superintendent.
The Mind Trust has expanded its work to supporting similar organizations and educational change strategies in other cities, including Nashville, Cincinnati and Kansas City, all of which have modeled at least parts of the group’s work.

“What’s happened with education reform in Indianapolis has major implications for the way we as a nation approach social challenges,” Harris said.