Confused about whether the money could be used, San Diego Unified schools left $2.8 million unspent in federal funding meant to help disadvantaged students last year.

The money didn’t disappear. San Diego Unified scooped it up and divided it up among the schools again this year. But the result is that kids at schools that left the money on the table lost out, while kids at schools that spent all their funds got an extra boost.

Adams Elementary, for instance, got $85,000 in the federal funds but only spent roughly $19,000, according to school district records. The unused $66,000 was swept back up and divvied among all schools this year, so Adams got a slice, but less than it would have if it spent it in the first place.

That was good news for schools like Balboa Elementary, which spent nearly all of its federal funding for disadvantaged students last year, then got a cut of the leftovers from schools like Adams.

Adams Principal Derek Murchison was surprised when told about the leftover funds. He thought the school had spent almost all the money that it could. The numbers from the school district startled him.

“If that’s right, I was misdirected,” Murchison said. “And if we did do that, I don’t want the same thing to happen again.”

Many parents were angry when the numbers were shared with a school district advisory committee a week and a half ago. They complained their schools were scrimping while money could have been used. More than a dozen schools left $50,000 or more unspent, which could be enough to cover an employee.

School district staffers believe some of the money went unspent because some principals mistakenly believed that a San Diego Unified spending freeze last year also applied to the federal funds. It didn’t.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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