How to Find Real Estate in Best School Districts

CHRISTINA STEVENSON

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, real estate professionals aren’t allowed to violate fair housing laws by giving their opinions about the quality of schools or steering their clients toward or away from certain schools. This has enhanced significance in lieu of recent battles over classroom curriculum, book bans, charter schools, the loss of qualified teachers, county school consolidations, and more.  Real estate practitioners may have children in school themselves, but they have chosen that school for a reason, perhaps their child’s preferences and abilities. They can introduce you to homes to buy or rent, which is their expertise, but they’re not able to help you pick out a school or recommend an educational environment for your child.

That leaves homebuyers with children in the position of doing their own research, but first they have to determine what subjects they’d like their child to learn, which schools offer the best programs to foster their child’s interests and abilities, and then choose the school with the best curriculum to help their child succeed. You’ll also need to consider your child’s challenges such as learning disabilities, behavior problems, and social difficulties, if any.

There are so many types of schools available today that finding the right environment can be daunting, beginning with whether you want your child to have a public or private education. Other criteria include academic reputation, class sizes, safety and security, school ideology, and religious ideology.

Public schools

Neighborhood schools: Local, state and federal budgets determine education funding; set state standards for assessments, standards and curriculum; oversees special services for students with disabilities, language issues or other challenges; license all private, colloquial and public schools and their teachers; and elect or appoint local and state school board members.

School boards oversee a specific school district and hold a lot of power in developing school policies, allocating resources, directing school curriculum, and setting policies for school administrators and the hiring of personnel.

Public neighborhood schools are open and tuition-free to all children who live in the district. Because they’re government-funded, they must offer basic programs designed for everyone, including math, English, reading, writing, science, history, and physical education. If the district budget allows, public schools can also offer programs in music, art, languages, technology, and career education. Learning is measured through standardized tests which students must achieve the minimum criteria in order to pass to the next level.

Charter Schools: Charter schools are also government-funded public schools, but where they differ is that they are started by a group of people (or a company) to provide students with more educational freedom and less traditional learning. They operate under a contract to produce academic results and must not discriminate on the basis of sex, religious beliefs, socio-economics, etc. Students from anywhere in the area can attend, they’re typically chosen by lottery.  While charter schools are governed by their own elected boards, they’re still accountable to the state and public school district they’re in, including mandated testing. For example, a charter school may employ the Montessori method of teaching instead of the state’s methods, but it may not have a sports or music program. If the charter is successful, the district will renew the charter. If not, the school closes and students default to their local neighborhood schools or other choices.

Magnet Schools: Magnet schools are public high schools that offer specialized courses, often designed around a focus such as science, engineering or the arts, according to U.S. News and World Report. Any student in the designated region can attend, but they may have to apply through a lottery or qualify to attend with test scores and GPAs. Staying in the magnet school depends on the students grades, behavior, and contributions to the school. 

Online public schools: Online K-12 schools offer full-time courses taught by state-certified teachers. They adhere to all state curriculum and assessment requirements, provide all educational materials for each class, and follow the traditional school year. The advantages for students are the ability to attend class at home or from anywhere, and on their own schedule. Learning coaches are typically parents, but they can also be professional teachers who meet with students online or in person periodically.  

Private schools

Private schools: - These are independent, non-government regulated schools that are privately owned or operated by a board of governors. They’re funded by tuitions paid by students’ families or through scholarship awards. Students are selected for their abilities in academics, sports, or other fields, and sometimes by their religious affiliations. Private schools can determine which students are admitted, but otherwise they must follow state guidelines for educational excellence.

Parochial schools: Subject to the same state guidelines as any other school, parochial schools teach the standard state curriculum, but they also include religious education. Parochial means parish-sponsored. Non-parochial schools are associated with a particular religion such as Catholicism, but are not affiliated with any particular parish.

Home Schools: Home schools are parent-operated, and their success depends on the dedication of the parents as well as the willingness of the child to be home-educated. Unlike online schools which have a set curriculum, learning materials and curriculums aren’t provided by the state, but instead are put together by the parents. Parents are responsible for lesson planning and teaching, organizing field trips, coordinating activities with other parents and being compliant with state and local homeschool requirements.  

Alternative Schools: Alternative schools are operated by the school district for students with special needs, such as learning disabilities or behavioral problems.

For some time, it’s been possible for families to choose a home by searching the Internet for information, such as standardized test scores, completion rates, and student-teacher ratios to rank schools in the area where they want to live. You can search sites like GreatSchools.org which offers ratings of elementary, middle, and high schools in thousands of school districts. Search by zip codes and cities across the U.S.

You can shop for homes online at Realtor.com, where each home includes information on public schools in the area using Great Schools Ratings which are based on “student performance on state tests, progress over time, and college readiness, in addition to how effectively schools serve students from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.”  Since 2017, parents have had the ability to search Realtor.com for homes by school districts.

Visit the schools you’re interested in. Meet the administrators from the principal, assistant principal, and counselor. Attend a PTA meeting and see how the organization works and how it helps the school and students. Talk to other parents. And most important, verify with the school district that the address of the home you’re interested in buying is actually in that district.

Because families often choose their next home based on where and how their children will go to school, it’s important to know how much money the school gets and how wisely it spends its allotment. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research , each state has a financing formula for determining the state aid to each district, and these formulas are revised periodically. But, according to a 2020 report, school districts rely not only on state funds, but largely on property taxes to fund schools, which can create wealth gaps in schools between affluent areas and low-income areas. An older report says that there’s a correlation between school expenditures and home values, with property values increasing by $20 for every $1 spent on public schools. Families are willing to spend more on their homes in school districts with A-rated schools, and that property values increase by $20,000 or more over homes in school districts with B-rated schools. In addition, higher home values can lead to more segregated schools.

According to Better.com, purchasing a home near “good schools” may be cheaper than sending your children to private schools. In 2020, The Private School Review reported that the “average annual private school tuition and fees in 2020 were $11,021 — with private elementary costing an average of $9,946 and private high school $14,711.”  Niche.com advises that homes within highly-rated public school districts are on average 49% more expensive than other similar homes in lesser districts.

Tell your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network professional which school districts you’d like to consider so they can help you search for homes.

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