School choice supporters say that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s office misfired by issuing a statement criticizing an expansion of the state’s voucher program.

A Jan. 29 press release accused Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, of “angrily and directly” acknowledging “that the legislature’s school voucher expansion is funded through cuts to public schools.”

The quote from Berger was taken from an interview with WBTV. “It makes no sense whatsoever for someone to say — and try to say it with a straight face — that just because a child leaves the traditional public schools that the money should stay there,” Berger said.

“As clear as day, Senate Berger brazenly outlined the legislature’s disastrous goal to hand out billions for vouchers to private schools while strangling our public schools,” said Cooper’s deputy communications director Jordan Monaghan in a statement. “The bottom line is this reckless voucher scheme hurts our neighborhood public schools where more than eight out of 10 North Carolina students get a quality education and causes them to face catastrophic losses in funding.”

But supporters of the voucher program — called the Opportunity Scholarship Program — say that Cooper’s office missed the point.

“Accusing parents who utilize school choice options of ‘strangling public schools’ is a new low for the governor’s team,” said Berger spokesman Randy Brechbiel in a statement to Carolina Journal.

Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation, said that Cooper erred by assuming that North Carolina government can’t fund both school choice and traditional public schools.

“The governor’s assertion that vouchers are ‘strangling’ our public schools is another attempt to tell the public the sky is falling. It isn’t,” Luebke said. “Since 2014, the year the Opportunity Scholarship Program began, average per pupil expenditures for the public schools increased about 18%, in real dollars. The governor says voucher recipients are stealing from the public schools. Such statements are blunted by the fact that the size of the pie has been increasing every year.”

The statement from Cooper’s office also appears to throw shade on the idea of “backpack” funding, where education dollars follow the student rather than the school. Under the current funding system in North Carolina, each public school receives a per pupil allotment of around $7,400 for each student enrolled. If a student withdraws to attend an alternative, the school losses the allotment.

Education reform advocates have suggested that tying funding to the needs of each individual child is a better approach. A recent Carolina Journal poll put support among likely voters for “backpack” funding at 66%, with just 16% support for the current funding formula.

Applications for the expanded Opportunity Scholarship open Feb. 1.