NC SENATOR ANDY WELLS

NC SEN. Andy Wells

Every year the state sends millions of dollars to local school systems across North Carolina to help them pay for school supplies. This year’s budget is $47 million. Now, State Superintendent Mark Johnson wants to send $37 million of that $47 million straight to classroom teachers, instead of school system administrators. And the education bureaucracy isn’t happy. Because teachers will get to spend $37 million that their bosses spent last year.

Fighting to keep control of that $37 million, school administrators are arguing they can spend the money better than teachers, that a centralized government bureaucracy makes bulk purchases at a better price, stores supplies in warehouses, and then distributes them when, and to whom, they decide needs them. 

That argument took me back to the 1970s, when factories in Japan were selling products at a lower price than American manufacturers. Our manufacturers faced a big challenge. They had to lower the costs of their products and, to do that, they made an innovative change in their supply chain (which, in part, was copied from Japan). It was called the Just-In-Time (JIT) supply model, and it was a dramatic departure from the old practice of buying mountains of supplies and storing them in massive warehouses until the day came when they were needed. 

How well did manufacturers’ new JIT plan work? According to an article in The Economist, US companies “gained over the following five years (on average) a 70 percent reduction in inventory, a 50 percent reduction in labor costs and an 80 reduction reduction in space requirements.” And that happened long before the age of desktop computers, smart phones, and being able to order supplies on the internet. 

Of course, that kind of streamlined (and less expensive) supply system doesn’t appeal much to a centralized government bureaucracy. To put it bluntly, cutting costs means fewer administrators on a 30-year career path leading to a six-figure pension and free medical insurance for life. 

Unlike entrepreneurial American factories in the 1970s, government bureaucrats see change as a threat to be avoided. School choice is one example: It allows parents to pick a school that is best for their child’s needs. But the education bureaucracy fought that change for years. 

Superintendent Mark Johnson’s new plan to put the money to purchase classroom supplies in the hands of teachers isn’t popular with the education bureaucracy. But, like School Choice, it means a better education for our children.

Andy Well is a state senator serving Catawba and Alexander counties.

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