How to Get Into a Good School District for Less

by Xin Lu on 24 June 2011 4 comments

If you have children in public school, then you probably chose where you live based on the quality of the school district. Often the areas with the best school districts have the most expensive real estate prices. Here are some ways to get into the good school district without buying an extremely expensive house. (See also: Live Where It's Cheap)

Rent

Generally schools do not care if you are a renter or an owner. As long as you live in a school district, your children are eligible to attend. In many of the best school districts in the San Francisco Bay area, it is much cheaper to rent than own a house. It is possible to rent in a good school district for a while and then buy a house in a cheaper neighboring town. This is what my parents did, and the school district I was in allowed me to continue in the same school after we moved. My parents bought a house right on the boundary of the school district, so I was able to walk to school. Since the house wasn't located in the good school district, it was about $100,000 cheaper than the houses on the other side of the line.

Apply for an Out-of-District Permit

Most school districts in America have some slots for out-of-district students who want to enroll. However, these permits are often issued on a lottery system and enrollment in the school you desire isn't guaranteed. Usually the out-of-district students have to maintain a certain grade point average at the school accepting them. The requirements vary from district to district, so you should look up the rules in your area.

Pay Tuition

Some coveted public school districts actually allow out-of-district students to attend if they pay tuition. In most cases the tuition is less than what private schools charge and also less than what a family would pay if they had to pay for property tax on an average-priced house in the district. If this is an option near you, then you could consider living in a less expensive town and paying for the good public school out of pocket.

I'm not familiar with how public schools work in other countries, but here in America living in a good school district can really cost an arm and a leg. I completely understand why parents want to purchase a home in a good school district, but it is entirely possible to send your child to excellent schools while living in a cheaper town and saving hundreds of thousands in the process.

What do you think? Did you purchase your home based on the school district?

[Correction: Post was updated by Editor and some parts were removed.]

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Guest

This really depends on what state you live in. In NY, residency in the district is the one and only qualifier. Long Island has the most segregated schools in all of the country. This is an absolute embarrassment to our state.

Anyway, we rent in a Newsweek top 100 school district. Our kids are gifted, and our former town could not accommodate their potential. We decided to spend all our money on rent, with negligible college savings as a result. A HUGE gamble. But our daughter just got full tuition scholarship to MIT, so I think we made the right bet. I know this path is nerve-wracking, and not for everyone.

We pay 2100/m rent for a small place on LI, NY, but I am betting that since the crash, we own as much house as all our underwater neighbors. None. (houses here are a half mill and up.) So we end up paying about half as owners for the same perks!

We weighed this rent against private school, and the numbers had public school as the best bang for our buck.

Guest's picture
Guest

This is definitely a good article but I also think that most people could afford to buy in a good school district if they buy small. I currently rent in a good school district but will be hoping to buy when my children actually start school and I don't have to dish out so much money monthly for daycare. However most of the homes in town that are reasonably priced are smaller homes less than 1200 sq feet built in the 1940's. Would I like a slightly bigger and newer house? Sure, but I am willing to make that sacrifice for my children to go to school here. I could afford to buy a bigger, newer home in the next town over but I would be sacrificing their education and to me it's not worth it. I don't need the granite counter tops or 2nd full bath but I do need my children to have the best education.

Julie Rains's picture

We live in what some people may call a desirable school district though there are several good ones in my area. Compared to many, our home is lower priced though there are many houses and condos in a similar price range, so picking the district and then finding a bargain can be done.

What I would also recommend is figuring out how school districts assign students to schools. Not all districts have use neighborhood concept; many have magnet, special interest (e.g., arts, foreign language), and charter schools that attract people from all over.

Guest's picture
Guest

Education is so different now and will continue to be different in the future. One part is the traditional school system. But the internet allows you to learn on your own and any kid with motivation can learn things above and beyond what is taught in school.