Choosing The Right School
Information on Schools
One of the important aspects and choices that go into choosing a home for many families is also understanding the school system that their new home is a part of. At the end of the day, buying a home is an investment; and like most people you're also looking at this purchase as an investment in your future. Income for school budgets come from multiple sources, a portion of one of those sources is property taxes. Choosing to live in a good school district makes for good financial sense if you have children, are planning to start a family, or even if you don't have children. The quality of neighboring schools can have an impact on how much you pay for your home, and conversely how much you can sell your home for at a later date. While private school may be an alternative to public education for some, tuition costs can be expensive, and those costs are added on top of your already assessed property taxes. Home values can be volatile, although the quality of neighborhood schools in your area will positively influence how much your home is worth in both the short- and long-term.
So how do you evaluate the quality of neighborhood schools and area school districts? Here are a few tips to assist you in identifying a school district that may work for you:
CHOOSING A SCHOOL DISTRICT: DIG INTO THE NUMBERS
The National Center for Education Statistics maintains an extensive database of education profile data profiles at the state and school district levels. A particularly useful tool is the SDDS (School District Demographics System). It's an interactive map viewer which lets you drill down into school districts of interest. You'll find geographic, demographic, and key performance indicators of a district's school from K-12.
The Colorado Department of Education features website links for all the school districts and BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) schools in the state. From this website you can locate a district of interest to you and further educate yourself upon it and the schools within its system. Many of the specific Front Range districts of interest will be found here:
- Boulder Valley School District
- Adams 12 Five Star Schools
- Adams County 14
- Adams County School District 50
- Denver Public Schools
- Mapleton Public Schools
- School District 27J
- St. Vrain Valley Schools
- Jefferson County Public Schools
IDENTIFY SCHOOL DISTRICT BOUNDARIES
For a more granular view, the school and district boundaries interactive map at GreatSchools.org includes ratings for each school (public, private and charter) in a district. Each school is rated, and you'll be able to view enrollment and achievement numbers as well. District lines are occasionally redrawn to account for a growing population and new school buildings, so knowing the most current boundaries for all area school districts can help you narrow your home search.
School Digger is another resource that will provide test scores, rankings, school and district boundaries, student/teacher ratios, ethnic makeup, and scores of other useful metrics and information for schools within your district, town or city of interest.
SELECTING A SCHOOL DISTRICT: CANVASS THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Data and reports are great starting points, but nothing beats the first-hand experience of people actually living in the district. Ask your prospective neighbors, especially those with school-age children, about the quality of their local schools. Be sure to ask about extracurricular opportunities like athletics or further academic programming, achievements, and awards. Neighbors will also be able to provide a perspective on local school board issues and other topics of interest. Consider attending a local school board meeting if possible, or review meeting minutes for a little context on what's happening in and around the district.
SCHEDULE A VISIT TO A SCHOOL
Visiting a school while the academic year is in session can give you a good sense for the culture and atmosphere of the building. The school principal will have the most up-to-date information about current enrollment, and will be able to speak to overall student achievement and the makeup of the student body. Ask for a tour of the building and a chance to observe the daily routine of the school, including individual classroom instruction across several grades.
3 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER THE QUALITY OF A SCHOOL DISTRICT WHEN PURCHASING YOUR NEXT HOME:
1. You'll pay more to live in a good school district
Parents of school-age kids often pay attention to school performance ratings, and are more likely to pay more to be near public schools with higher scores. Buyers who have kids or are planning to have kids will likely use this type of criteria as one of the most important parts of their search for a new home.
The benefit is that a school's high rating often drives up the prices of homes in that school's district. Even if you don't have kids, you'll still pay more to be near a good school. Schools basically establish an area as a good location, and in real estate, location matters.
2. A good school district may protect you from real estate market ups and downs
Even in a down market, an excellent school can be the rising tide that lifts all nearby home prices. For example, in 2007 - a time when real estate prices were slowing down - the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the impact of an excellent school on home values can be dramatic: "There could be two districts - one perceived as excellent, one mediocre - divided by a street. The same hypothetical house built by the same developer on either side of that street could fetch $100,000 more if it feeds into great schools."
Buying in a strong school district can help protect and insulate your home's value in a declining market, adding a degree of "Recession Proofing" to your investment.
3. Though it may cost more to buy near a good school, it will be good for resale
Naturally real estate never comes with any guarantees, although it's certain that parents will always want the best school they can afford for their kids. In markets both good and bad, home buyers should always think about resale when considering purchasing a home. Buyers, before moving forward on making an offer on a home, should immediately think like a seller; as it's highly likely that eventually they'll be selling that home in the future. Ask yourself the question: "If the housing market changes and I need to sell, how will my home pricing react to those changes?" The location, and in particular the school district, should be considered as important data points in answering that question.
What is Open Enrollment, and how do I do it?
Open Enrollment is an option for Colorado students to enroll in a public school other than their assigned "neighborhood school." Students may open enroll into any public school as long as certain criteria are met, most schools that do not have room for more students will have a waiting list. When there is room for more students, schools will either accept students on a first-come-first-served basis, or hold a lottery to determine which students may enroll in the school; be sure to check with individual schools for details.
School Choice for Kids is an outstanding resource for answers on How and When you can enroll your child, assistance in locating the individual school district open enrollment web pages, complete a checklist for open enrollment to help guide you if you plan to enroll your child in a public school other than your neighborhood school, and transportation and restriction questions on open enrollment; among other open enrollment reference and resource material.