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Group plans ad campaign to back school choice

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A private group plans to spend up to $500,000 on an advertising campaign in support of a push for state legislators to broaden school choice in Indiana.

The Foundation for Educational Choice, an Indianapolis-based not-for-profit formerly known as the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, has started radio advertisements featuring the slogan: "Option: the next chapter in education."

The group also has ads that will appear on billboards and city buses and online. It expects to spend $400,000 to $500,000 on the campaign in Indiana, or about 10 percent of its 2010 revenue, foundation President Robert Enlow said.

"We think it's amoral to base quality of education on the ZIP code you live in," Enlow told The Indianapolis Star. "For us, it's a civil rights issue, an issue of economic freedom and educational freedom."

Proponents of choice say students should be allowed to attend any school they want and that the public money spent on them should follow them even if they choose private schools.

Indiana students already have limited choice as they can move freely within public schools, though they are responsible for their transportation.

Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said such a school choice option could put poor families at a disadvantage because they might not be able to provide transportation for their children to attend other schools.

"We think it drains resources from current public schools, and we think it's a lot better to focus on improving all public schools rather than draining those resources," he said.

Enlow and Schnellenberger agree that moves to broaden school choice in Indiana could have its best chance to advance in the Legislature since Republicans won a strong majority of both the House and Senate in the November election for the session that starts Wednesday.

Enlow said the foundation is working on similar campaigns in three other states — Oklahoma and two others he declined to identify.

Gov. Mitch Daniels and state schools superintendent Tony Bennett, both Republicans, have said they favor more school choice options.

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