A new school choice plan by a former state education board member could be a winner when the Texas Legislature considers the hot-button topic next year.

Cynthia Dunbar is proposing the Education Emancipation Act, a tax exemption plan for school choice that she says should unite conservatives because it avoids state appropriations of funds, thus the threat of government regulations tied to such funds.

“This is the first solution that actually allows for school choice with parental rights without regulatory control and strings attached,” Dunbar told a group at an event Monday in Frisco hosted by the conservative grassroots organization Daniel Nation.

“It’s specifically drafted for Texas… it’s ready to go,” she added.

School choice is a Texas GOP priority but proved a divisive issue within the Republican House majority during the last legislative session.

Legislation backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, which included education savings accounts, failed to pass in the House, leading Abbott to target school choice opponents during the March GOP primary.

Dunbar’s plan addresses concerns of both defenders of the current public education system who claim school choice would “defund” government schools, as well as those who fear the “strings” that could be tied to ESAs or vouchers because those funds flow through government hands.

“We don’t want the government’s money,” Dunbar said Monday.

According to Dunbar, the Education Emancipation Act would allow families to claim an exemption to their school property taxes.

“A tax exemption is not government dollars… it’s your money,” she said, adding that the distinction is “hugely important” for avoiding government intrusions into how parents choose to educate their children.

“Because if it’s not that way, if it ever makes its way into the public coffers and then is appropriated as a voucher or something else into your hands, guess what can come with it? Yes, regulatory control,” she said.

And that is why the other side in this game is rushing to try to make sure that in terms of school choice, we don’t choose a good option and coalesce and get up in front of it and make sure people know that we have a way to do this where they don’t get any regulatory control.

Dunbar’s plan also includes corporate tax exemptions to fund scholarships for students to afford to go to private school or homeschool.

“It’s not a perfect fix in the sense that if you don’t own property, you can’t get an exemption… So it doesn’t hit everyone,” she explained.

She also noted it won’t be a dollar-for-dollar fix. However, it will pull dollars out of local school districts’ coffers for students they’re not educating and help countless families who are fed up with the current government school system but need help affording other options.

Dunbar is a former State Board of Education member who went on to teach government and law at Liberty University.

Her dedication to biblical and constitutional principles earned her a reputation as a fierce defender of traditional education for students and parental rights for their families.

“My parting shot while I was on the state board was to pass a resolution declaring the Department of Education unconstitutional,” she said Monday night.

During her presentation, Dunbar also explained why passing the Education Emancipation Act is so important.

“I believe education is the lynchpin issue. If you don’t go after education, you lose everything… When over 90 percent of society is being effectively indoctrinated with our own tax dollars, how do we take over any issue?” she said.

“People need to be literate to understand the laws of nature and nature’s God. If you don’t understand the law and how government is supposed to function, you lose liberty,” she said.

She quoted Benjamin Franklin saying that our country is “a republic if you can keep it.”

“How do we keep something that we don’t understand?” she asked.

Dunbar also said, “Anyone who came in here with the idea of thinking any kind of school choice issue is dangerous, it opens up the door for regulations, and this person just doesn’t understand that, I’m here to tell you that is not the case.”

“I have been in these trenches for decades now. Teaching and preaching and crying out even at a time when nobody seemed to care. At least education is on the radar now, and people are aware of how important it is,” she said.

She called the current system a monopoly and said local school districts don’t want to share their control.

“How do you get rid of a monopoly?” she asked. “Competition.”

“You have to somehow start peeling it back, and the only way you do that is with the power of the purse,” she added.

She cautioned that whoever “gets to the plate first” with a school choice plan will win the day.

“I am fully aware of the games that they play and what they do, whether it’s UNESCO or whatever entity we’re talking about, to try to push this type of regulatory control that’s expansive. And we have to be more aware, more alert, and smarter to beat them at their own game,” she said.

Whoever gets to the plate first, and does it right, and makes sure that it gives control in the right place, which is to the parents instead of the state… usually wins. At least it gives us a better chance to try to protect our kids.

“We’re not looking to the government to fix all of our problems,” she added.

Daniel Nation founder Brandon Burden, a pastor and conservative activist, endorsed Dunbar’s plan during Monday’s event.

Burden encouraged delegates to this month’s Republican Party of Texas Convention to approve a resolution in support of the Education Emancipation Act.

“In the 89th session, we’re going to pass school choice. The question is, which form of school choice are we going to pass,” said Burden.

Burden and Dunbar believe Abbott and lawmakers are open to a tax exemption program.

Dunbar also intends to seek support for the Education Emancipation Act at the national level but said she hopes Texas will lead the way.

“Now is not the time to cower. Now is not the time to hold back. Now is not the time to be divided, because we need to move forward boldly, strategically, with a creative way,” she said.

A video of Dunbar’s presentation can be viewed here.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.