When hunting for the perfect home for your family, more comes into play than a fantastic floorplan and your favorite restaurants nearby. If you have children, or plan to, school assignments are of major importance.
Lots of choices. In some neighborhoods, particularly in metropolitan areas, parents may have their pick of public, private, magnet and charter schools. The choices can be overwhelming. Take a look.
- Public schools are financed and operated by the local school system. They follow state and federal guidelines, and are free to all children. They may follow traditional or year-round calendars, depending on the area. Bus transportation is typically provided.
- Magnet schools are public schools with a specific focus. Language immersion, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), arts, and vocational/career preparation programs are common themes. They offer additional unique learning opportunities and tend to be more diverse. Though magnet programs are free, they do require applications and admission can be competitive. Because magnet schools serve students across a district, the one you want may not be near your home. Always ask if transportation is provided.
- Private or independent schools charge tuition and fees, much like a college or university. They also typically have an admissions process. May are operated by religious organizations. Some private schools offer scholarships to students to defray the cost of tuition. Parents are typically required to provide transportation.
- Charter schools use government money to operate but are administered independent of the local government. They do not charge tuition. Charter schools also require application and admission can be highly competitive. Transportation usually is not provided.
Evaluating the options. Look at academics, extracurricular activities, size, facility condition, and safety when choosing a school. Websites such as greatschools.org and schooldigger.com provide rankings and additional information about area schools. If you find a home you’re interested in, use the address to find out what schools your children would attend. Ratings give you a basic idea about the quality of the school, but don’t tell the whole story. Visit the school and talk to parents, students, and teachers who have experience with a specific school.
Calendar options. While most schools still maintain a traditional calendar with summers off, in many places some schools have switched to year-round operation. Year-round schools offer multiple tracks in which students attend school for 45 days, then have a 15-day vacation. Proponents suggest that year-round schedules offer more consistent learning, with shorter breaks that enhance retention rates. Scheduling may be more difficult, however, if families have more than one child and end up on different calendars.
Enrollment caps. In areas with rapid growth, schools may be capped. This means that only current homeowners are ensured a spot for their children at the local school. New students may have to travel to a more distant school than the rest of the neighborhood children. Call the school district to get current information because caps change from year to year.