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Financial Accounting for Local and State School Systems: 2014 Edition
NCES 2015347
April 2015

Appendix E—Criteria for Distinguishing Equipment From Supply Items — The Disadvantages of a Supply/Equipment List

State departments of education and school districts maintain detailed lists of material items used in school district operations, identifying each entry as either a supply or an equipment item. These lists are helpful in many situations, but they have at least the following four limitations in financial reporting:

  • Various state and federal aid programs offer supply/equipment categorizations that conflict with one another.
  • Technological and philosophical changes in education continue at an ever-increasing pace. It is impractical to list and classify the thousands of materials and devices used in school districts today, particularly in the vocational education curricula. Therefore, without periodic updates, supply/equipment lists quickly become obsolete.
  • Classifications of certain items change because of changes in price or technology. For example, most school districts classified hand-held, mini-calculators as equipment several years ago when they cost over $100. Now that the price of these items has dropped to the $5 to $25 range, some school districts are changing the classification of these items to supplies.
  • Users tend to treat the lists as comprehensive and up-to-date, even when warned otherwise.

For these reasons, developing a universally applicable and easily updateable supply/equipment list is impractical. Instead of presenting a list that might raise as many issues as it would propose to resolve, this guide suggests that the distinction between supplies and equipment can better be made through consistent, statewide application of uniform criteria.