Are you plunking down too much too early for schools?
Many parents may think that moving to a better school district would be the best way to guarantee a quality education for their children. But you do have other options, including private and charter schools. Here are some things to consider before you make the move.
For parents, the countdown to kindergarten ticks almost as loudly as the biological clock — especially if your local public schools aren’t great.
By the time the oldest child is 4, real-estate agents say, most parents in this predicament throw themselves out on the real-estate market, trying to buy their way into the best school district they can afford.
Should you pull the trigger so quickly? Would you be better off staying put and socking that money away for a few years, or spending some of it on private-school tuition until values rise?
"I think a lot of people move sooner than they need to," says Liz Vaughn Avila, an agent with Dilbeck Realtors in La Canada, Calif.
Given the shaky job market and still unstable real-estate market, agents say it might pay for some people to hold off on that pricey purchase. But how do you know if you’re ready to make the move?
MSN Real Estate asked education consultants, real-estate agents, financial experts and parents what they would consider before taking on a much larger mortgage for better schools.
Weighing your options
First, experts say, you should study all of your options — not just the schools at the top of the ladder, or the ones your friends rave about.
1. What is your local elementary school really like?
A lot of people tend to dismiss that public school around the corner before even checking it out, says Fiona Whitney, a Los Angeles education consultant and author of the Whitney Guides to private schools and preschools. Sitting in on a class might just convince you that it will work for your child, or conversely make you more resolved to find something else.
Tour a couple of the vaunted public schools in that area you have your eye on. What’s the difference?
The main point here is: Don’t just listen to what your friends say, go out and see for yourself.
2. What charter or magnet schools are in the area?
This can be a great low-cost alternative for kids who have an interest in a particular area such as science, or parents who embrace a more progressive teaching philosophy. But getting into these schools is no sure thing. Parents must apply — usually earlier that same calendar year — and hope they make the cut.
As with any other options, it’s important to spend some time at the school and talk to other parents about their child’s experience there.
"You have to find a good fit for the child," Whitney says.
3. What private options do you have and how much do they cost?
Experts say you should look at your budget and ask yourself how much you could realistically spend a month on tuition. Make sure, says Massachusetts certified financial planner Patricia Konetzny, that you are first socking away 10% of your net income for retirement. (You might need to tap that for college.)
"If sending (the kids) to private schools means they can’t do that, then I would advise against it," she says.
Bing: Search & decide
Parochial schools — if you’re open to that — can often provide a high-quality education at a slightly lower price than many other private elementary schools, in part because they are subsidized and supported by the church and its members.
But keep in mind that many private schools will also hit parents up for donations or additional fund raising during the year.
It’s also good to know whether these schools offer scholarships or financial aid. If you lose your job, you might need this safety net.
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Lastly, take a critical look at commute times: That beautiful private school that’s 30 minutes away from you might be wonderful, but it will strain you and your gas budget over time.
Public school: One parent’s perspective
Residential architect Demery Matthews knew that she wanted to live in an area with great public schools. She had always wanted her children to grow up in the same type of community she did, with a lot of other parents of young kids, and a school you could walk to.
So she and her husband, Zac, sold their three-unit rental property in Pasadena, Calif., and the house they were living in nearby and moved their three kids — a fourth came later — to Sparr Heights, a small,close-by community with a Mayberry-type feel and a fairly hefty price tag: $550,000 for a small two-bedroom house that they gutted to add a second story.
This craftsman-style renovation added more to the cost of the house, leaving them with a mortgage payment of about $2,700 a month when they finally moved into the house in 2007.
Several years later, Matthews’ work contracts have waned, making her family a little "house poor." But she doesn’t regret it.
"It was worth it for us. When we walk around this neighborhood, our children’s friends are all over the place. We had other options, but none of them were preferable to living within walking distance of our kids’ school."
Numerous studies over the years have shown that houses in areas with high-scoring public schools tend to hold their value better than others.
"Schools in a quality district are easier to sell and do command a higher price," says Walter Moloney, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, pointing to some NAR studies.
Of course, the markup for good public schools can be huge in some areas — too large for a lot of budgets.
Houston real-estate agent LaRetta Allen of Prudential Gary Greene Realtors says that houses with good schools in the Memorial neighborhood of Houston cost on average at least twice what similar houses sold for in nearby neighborhoods.
In some suburban areas, she says, that markup is even higher.
So what should you ask yourself before making this investment so early?
- How many children do I have/plan to have?
- How secure is my job?
- How long do I plan to stay in this area?
- What are my social expectations for this community outside of the schools?
- How diverse is the school?
- Is the environment right for my child? Is it too high pressure?
- Will I need two incomes to make a mortgage payment there? Will we want to keep up with the Joneses and blow our budget?
Moreover, agents say, be aware that buying in an area with good schools doesn’t guarantee you anything. Rezoning could move your child to another school and budget crunches could increase class sizes.
That’s what Zac Matthews is fighting in his prestigious school district. With teacher layoffs threatened, he is supporting a proposal to raise funds through a parcel tax to preserve the district’s staff.
"We need to protect our investment," he says.
My son was attending a public school with very good reputation and we parents did a lot of volunteering,
fundraising and hard work to get our kids to accelerate.
I did hear that the school was very good and the reason it was good was because of the part of town
it was located in (not many kids with free lunches, but many kids with mothers with college educations).
Later after elementary school, our kids were mixed with "no so good performing" other school...
The most ironic for me was when in High school times the signups for parent-teachers conferences were at 7 am
and the story was the same all those years: the parents meeting there at 7-7.15 am were the some parents meeting years ago (with 60 kids in one class year in elementary school and now 480 kids in one class in high school).
Where were all those other parents?
How you can complain about quality of school if you don't have much involvement in your kid’s activities?
I agree with "September the 11" that parents are the most important aspect to a child's education. I don't think it really matters if the school is a public or private school but what the parents convey is important to the children and what the child makes of the experience.
My boys were reading before they entered kindergarten, because we read to them A LOT and we stimulated their imaginations. No parent should expect their school to "do it all". I've known parents of children in both public and private schools and the children who excel have parents that are involved. You can't drop your child at the door of the school and just walk away.
I have been actively involved in my children's schools (public) from kindergarten to high school. Get to know the teachers and administrators and be active in your school's PTO/PTA. Let the school know what they are doing right and where improvements are needed. Set high standards for your children and let them know education is important.
I'm a product of Cleveland, OH public schools (lots of problems) but my parents expected me to excel and to go to college. Some of my friends who went to a private high school did not do well even though this school was "better". It's what YOU make of it.....
My kids went to what were considered some of the worst, lowest-performing schools. They had friends of many races and religions, and both have done well. You could probably consider our economic situation as being lower-middle class, but my son and daughter are succeeding.
My son is a sergeant in the Army, up for another promotion, going to college part-time with almost enough hours for his Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice. My daughter is almost finished working on her Master's degree in Math. Both have "done" college on their own, with grants, scholarships and loans, and with extremely little help from my husband and me. (If your kids cannot get those grants, scholarships and loans necessary to attend college, maybe they don't really WANT to go to college. Maybe they don't belong there.)
It doesn't matter which school your child attends. What matters is YOUR attitude toward education, teachers and other students. YOU can make it or break it. Your children's exposure to people from other countries and religions will give them an education that is priceless.
Several years ago, we built a home near a school district about 25 minutes north of Twin Cities known for their education so my two kids would have good education and possibly go to a good college with nice scholarships. Boy was I wrong! My daughter never missed an "A" since middle school and she volunteered for every church youth event and other outside the church events and yet, my daughter received very little or no guidance for getting any scholarships and being accepted at better colleges. I felt bad for her because she even put countless late night hours writing essays for scholarships. I realized that maybe we are a middle-class family living in middle and upper class neighborhood instead of our old neighborhood which is middle and low income school district where we might have had a better chance of getting better scholarships and better recognition by colleges....Of course, my kids will have good grades in any school district because as a parent, we expect no less.
If your children really are a priority then you should investigate homeschooling. Proven results are better socialization and academics. Check our Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) web site for more statistics. With states cutting back and resources dwindling, the quality of public schools are declining. Further, the public schools are run by the government. What does the government run well? Check out HSLDA's web site for more information. Latest estimate is over 1.5 million children are homeschooled with much better results their public schooled peers.
Bekahsun, you don't get it: "As a parent, I feel I have more control over my children's learning and environment in a private school environment as opposed to public school where the state dictates everything your child learns and is exposed to."
All schools operating with a state fall under State education guidelines. Your private school faces the same regulations that the school you can walk to faces. The difference and reason your private school has better test scores is because your private school is homogenous. If every parent in a school feels strongly about education, they're kids will do better in school and will therefore test better. In a mixed socio-economic school, some parents don't give a flying puck about their kids nor the education they are getting. Those low test scores, when average in with high-achievers' test scores in the same school, will drag the overall conglomerate score down, making the school look like it does poorly, when overall, there is just a vast spectrum of attitudes toward learning, with test scores all over the place. Whether there is a clear advantage to putting your kids in a school with like-minded students and parents, IDK, but I know that my kids will have the advantage of seeing many different socio-economic situations. They will see that the kid who does poorly and disrupts class comes from a home where mom works 3 jobs and her live-in boyfriend sits on the couch 16 hours a day drinking beer. They will understand how that kid got to be that way, and will not make that mistake themselves as adults.
I went through 16 years of public education and can say that during that entire exposure to educators I was never given direction or purpose.
It is really, really difficult to find an institution that is more dedicated to it's students preparation than to it's own collective personal objectives.
There are a few and, contradictory to this article, they are the most expensive. The ones that hold their instructors to a standard comparable to a medical doctor's. That is the instructors are held accountable for the success of their students.
The Best example I have been affiliated with is St Paul's School in Concord, NH. (grades 9 - 12)
gregony said: "The amount of students on subsidized lunches and the achievement scores of schools are directly related. I don't know why. It doesn't have anything to do with race, it doesn't have anything to do with the district. It's just one of those statistical realities."
I do know why - it can be summed up entirely in one sentence: A child's education will only be as good as the parents' interest and involvement in said education.
In other words, if you take education seriously, and make it apparent to your children, they will do better, no matter the school they are in. And to the contrary, even if you moved to the best school district in the nation, if you have a GED and feel that your GED was good enough to get by, your kids will see that example and slack in their own learning.
My kids understand that learning is the way to a rich and fulfilling life. They are young still, but everyday is a quiz show around the house. My oldest inspired my second-born to begin reading soon after turning 4, and she was reading 2nd grade books as she started Kindergarten at 5 1/2. They both are quizzing each other on everything under the sun - like they never left school, and my 3 year old is picking up phonics and spelling now. The school they are in was built in the late 1960s to satisfy a neighborhood that grew in the 60s and 70s and has matured. Most of the homeowners youngest children are well past grade school days. The bulk of the children enrolled in the school live in single-parent households in the many apartments that were erected in the 90s through last year. Based on that, there are a lot of subsidized lunches, and a proportionate amount of children with behavior issues. This has not affected them, nor do I expect it to.