Funds Budgeted for School Supplies Often Spent Elsewhere

What's your school spending on supplies?

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    In California, schools are prohibited from requiring students to purchase school supplies.

    Schools in San Diego have money in their budgets for classroom supplies but as NBC 7 Investigates found, not all of that money is being spent on notebooks, pens and paper.

    In a random sampling of 10 schools in San Diego Unified School District, just one spent more than 50 percent of the funds budgeted for supplies on items for the classroom.

    The money in the supplies budget is considered discretionary and may often be spent on other purchases ranging from creating a garden to hiring additional staff.

    As students return to school, families are often presented with lists of suggested items for the student or requests for classroom “donations” like tissues or cleaning supplies.

    Most school districts budget about $50 to $100 per pupil for classroom supplies but, that figure doesn't necessarily reflect how much is spent on things like paper, pens and pencils.

    Those funds are discretionary, meaning they can be spent on field trips or noon duty supervisors, for example, instead of supplies, according to district officials.

    When we checked with San Diego Unified, we found only one school out of 10 randomly selected schools surveyed spent more than 50 percent of their supplies budget on actual school supplies.

    District officials say many schools decide to spend their funds on more needed services rather than supplies, which can be supplemented by parents, teachers and parent teacher organizations.

    "I think we try to remove as many strings as possible where the schools can decide where they want to allocate the dollars to figure out what's best for them," said Budget Operations Director Debbie Foster for San Diego Unified.

    To compare what was budgeted to how the money was spent, NBC 7 Investigates requested itemized budgets for 10 randomly selected schools within the district of 226 educational facilities ranging from elementary school to alternative schools. 

    School Discretionary Budget Supplies Expenses  Percentage 
    Lincoln High  146,043 3560 2.44%
    Bird Rock Elementary 47,463 21268 44.81%
    Pacific Beach Middle 50,903 12849 25.24%
    Henry High School  218,514 16791 7.68%
    Cherokee Point 67,228 15172 22.57%
    Ocean Beach Elementary  55,476 32462 58.52%
    Sunset View Elementary 40,534 13144 32.43%
    Marshall Middle 106,016 14278 13.47%
    Scripps Ranch High  192,743 23587 12.24%
    Mann Middle  72,954 10791 14.79%
    Chavez Elementary  35,941 14129 39.31%

    Mobile users can see list here

    A state law that guarantees a free public education prohibits schools from requiring students to bring materials to school. 

    If your school is requiring, rather than recommending the purchase of school supplies, we want to hear about it.

    Send your supply list to