Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper hit the road in February on a campaign in eastern North Carolina to blast Opportunity Scholarships, the state’s voucher program that provides a pathway to a private school education for tens of thousands of families across the state.

The governor’s office claims that vouchers will have a draconian impact on local public schools. However, an examination of recent data show Opportunity Scholarships account for a fractional cost of overall spending on public schools.

“The amount spent on Opportunity Scholarship awards is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount spent overall on the public-school system,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop anti-school choice forces from exaggerating the impact to score political points.”

Cooper’s first stop was in Greenville, NC, to visit Pactolus Global School. A press release announcing the stop claims, “Under the expanded voucher program, public schools in Pitt County could lose nearly $2.5 million in state education funding just in the first year of the expanded program. That loss in funding not only impacts students, but also Pitt County’s workforce. Public schools are the third-largest employer in Pitt County.”

But the numbers show a different picture. Pitt County public schools received a total of nearly $269 million for the 2021-2022 school year — the most recent year where data are available — with 23,302 students enrolled, according to statistical profiles provided by the NC Department of Public Instruction. Meanwhile during the same year, 224 students received Opportunity Scholarships.

The NC State Education Assistance Authority, the agency responsible for administering the voucher program, did not track total funds disbursed per county for the 2021-2022 school year. The average award amount that year statewide, however, was $3,832 per student. That equates to around $858,368 devoted to the Opportunity Scholarship in Pitt County, which is .03% of the total spending on public schools in the county.

Cooper’s office made similar claims in a visit to Carteret County, alleging public schools there stood to lose $1 million under the expanded voucher. Here again, 2021-2022 school year data show that the ratio of public school funding to Opportunity Scholarship funding is 275-to-one: The county’s public schools received over $100 million compared to an estimated $364,000 for voucher students.

In January, Cooper’s office made similar claims about the state’s voucher program “strangling” funding for public schools. But Luebke pointed out that per pupil expenditures on public schools has increased about 18% in real dollars since the Opportunity Scholarship Program launched in 2014.

In 2023, the Republican-led General Assembly passed a massive expansion of the voucher program, opening eligibility to all North Carolina families regardless of income. That expansion led to record-setting applications during the first week of enrollment, enough to crash the NCSEAA website during the first hours of the open enrollment period. As of Feb. 14, the NCSEAA reported that 46,790 completed new applications have been received for the program.

For the 2022-2023 school year, the average household income of Opportunity Scholarship recipients was $44,229.

A recent Carolina Journal poll of likely NC voters put support for Opportunity Scholarships at 64%, with 26% opposed.