When it comes to crafting education policy, Republicans and Democrats share little common ground. They agree children are important but disagree on ways to educate North Carolina’s students.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday said legislative priorities are “slipping” when it comes to public schools. He pointed to the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which he called a misappropriation of taxpayer money.

Conversely, members of the school-choice movement applaud vouchers and education savings accounts, making private school more accessible to low-income families. While traditional public education is important, all decisions affecting kids should be left to parents, who are ultimately accountable, Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, told Carolina Journal.

Pay raises for teachers and principals and investing in low-performing public schools should take top-billing on the legislature’s to-do list, Cooper told an audience at the North Carolina Public School Forum’s annual policy breakfast.

Limited funding leaves tough choices, he said.

“We don’t want to [misspend] the money of North Carolina taxpayers just as the economy is turning around,” Cooper said. “So how do you provide accountability for public education? I believe we continue to invest in our public schools. I am concerned about school vouchers because of the lack of accountability. We really don’t know what these schools are doing, and how they are performing.”

The governor’s comments came during National School Choice Week, a seven-day celebration of parents’ rights to choose the best education for their children.

Lawmakers must focus less on regulating schools and more on providing quality education to low-performing kids. That goal can be met only if parents are given say over where their child goes to school, Horn said after Cooper’s talk.

“If a parent decides to move their child from school A to school B, if they decided that because of their perceived needs for their child, well then, that shows that they are being accountable,” he told CJ.

“My concern still comes back to ensuring that we don’t micromanage,” Horn said. “And sometimes the word accountability is interpreted as micromanage. Do we owe the taxpayer an answer to the question, ‘So what are we getting for what we’re paying?’ Yes. But I also want to let professionals do their job.”

Critics of school vouchers argue public money shouldn’t be used to pay private or religious schools. Such programs encourage racial discrimination and segregation, they say.

Cooper has said he won’t fund school vouchers in his 2017-18 budget, though the legislature’s Republican majority will block any attempt from his administration to dissolve Opportunity Scholarships.

Installed by Republican lawmakers in 2014, the state’s voucher program gives students up to $4,200 to pay for private school tuition and related expenses. Opportunity Scholarships are fully funded for the next decade, an appropriation of $145 million to be divided among a total 36,00 children.

Roughly 5,300 students receive the scholarships.

Cooper acknowledged that, should he succeed in discarding the program, the state must account for those students. The governor wasn’t specific about actions he may take, but he said traditional public schools will be a major focus of his impending budget proposal.

“I’m putting together a budget right now to present to the General Assembly, and believe me, those choices are hard,” he said. “But you’ve got a choice of unaccountable private school vouchers and raising teacher pay, making sure that schools have proper supplies, and making sure you don’t cut their teacher’s assistants, and raising principal pay, and making sure that we invest in early childhood … the list goes on. Vouchers should not be on that list.”

Legislators from both parties must separate policy from politics, Cooper said.

“There are going to be hundreds of ways that we can find consensus and work together as long as we all act like adults …There are a lot of Republicans who support public education at the General Assembly. There are a lot of Republicans who understand the importance of raising teacher salaries.

“It gets a little harder when you’re talking about accountability, and differentiated pay, and other areas where we have some disputes, but one of the things we can all agree on is, we aren’t paying our teachers enough.”