Housing & Mortgage
Can’t find an affordable home near a good K-12 public school? Dig deeper
Great public schools don’t always translate to expensive local real estate
Any parent or future-minded person shopping for a home knows there’s something less tangible, yet arguably more important, than square footage, updated appliances, an open floor plan, extra bedrooms or outdoor space: the quality of the local school district.
If you can’t manage to fork over an average of $12,350 a year, per child, for private school tuition—or have another valid reason to opt for public schooling—where you put down roots matters a whole lot for your kids’ early education.
Just under 50 million students were enrolled in public schools in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the fall of 2020. Where they attend (virtually or in-person) usually depends on their home address.
But as the narrative goes, property values tend to reflect the quality of local schools. That’s nice for sellers, but it can present a major challenge for buyers. Where there are great schools, it seems, homes quickly fall out of the realm of affordability for the typical family.
That assumption actually might not be so cut-and-dry. A dataset from Niche, a platform that evaluates grade schools and colleges in the U.S., can help you identify the many best-in-class districts with affordable surrounding communities.
Ranking the best school districts
Niche publishes an annual ranking of more than 11,800 school districts nationwide. Its rating methodology is detailed and includes input from students, parents and teachers, as well as hard data from the US Department of Education and other pertinent sources.
In its evaluation of school districts, Niche heavily weighted academic performance at each school, but also considered the quality and salaries of teachers, how diverse the student body is and how much money is spent on resources, facilities, clubs and activities. Basically, is it a safe, nurturing and (reasonably) challenging environment for students?
More than 400 schools scored an A+ on Niche’s list this year. Of the top-50 school districts, most are concentrated in the Northeast, with some outliers in the Midwest, California and Texas.
School district boundaries can appear nonsensical at times. Two homes on the same street may be assigned to different districts. Check Niche’s handy map to find district assignments for a specific address. Real-estate platforms like Redfin and Trulia also let you search for homes for sale by school district.
Where you might overpay for A+ schools
Niche’s list includes plenty of school districts tucked into ritzy communities with home prices well above the national median. The median list price per square foot in the U.S., according to Federal Reserve data, was about $198 in January. For a 2,000-square-foot home, that’s a price tag just under $400,000.
Take the No. 3 school district on the list, Great Neck Public Schools in New York, where the local price per square foot is a steep $504, according to Realtor.com.
In the No. 8 spot is Scarsdale Union Free School District. Scarsdale, New York, has a median list price per square foot of $420.
In the No. 11 spot, Eanes Independent School District serves parts of Austin, Texas, where the median list price per square foot is $326.
Head over to California’s Silicon Valley and the numbers are stark. The community within Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District, No. 25 on Niche’s list, has a median list price per square foot of $991.
The No. 27 spot is occupied by Palo Alto Unified School District, where the area’s median list price per square foot is an astonishing $1,700.
Where reasonable prices and great schools align
Here are a few places where the cost of a typical home falls below the national median and still grants you access to A+ public schools. To get a sense of what you can find in these communities at various price points, we included current listings for homes at or below the typical cost and listings for homes above the typical cost, in case your budget is flexible.
Vernon Hills, Illinois: Median list price per square foot is $172.
- Community High School District 128 (No. 4 best school district):
- On the low end, a spacious, three-bedroom recently updated townhome for $398,000. Annual property taxes are about $10,047.
- On the high end, a large brick home on over an acre of land for $825,000. Annual property taxes are about $18,728.
McCandless Township, Pennsylvania: Median list price per square foot is $185.
- North Allegheny School District (No. 21 best school district):
- On the low end, a bright, three-bedroom home on a wooded lot for $290,000. Annual property taxes are about $3,708.
- On the high end, an elevated Colonial with five bedrooms for $589,900. Annual property taxes are about $6,794.
Solon, Ohio: Median list price per square foot is $124.
- Solon City School District (No. 35 best school district):
- On the low end, a four-bedroom home with a large deck and a spacious fenced-in backyard for $315,000. Annual property taxes are about $5,185.
- On the high end, a bright three-bedroom home with a full, finished basement on a 0.40-acre lot for $598,000. Annual property taxes are about $11,284.
Palatine, Illinois: Median list price per square foot is $174.
- Township High School District No. 211 (No. 44 best school district):
- On the low end, a three-bedroom Victorian built in 1861 for $300,000. Annual property taxes are about $6,833.
- On the high end, a five-bedroom home with a finished basement for $649,900. Annual property taxes are about $14,179.
Using the data
You don’t have to be in the position, financially or otherwise, to make a big cross-country move to find value in this dataset. With more than 11,000 school districts to explore on Niche, there’s sure to be at least a few hidden gems in your region, or at least in your state. Check out GreatSchools.org for a second opinion.
And remember: You might have to swallow higher property taxes to land in a top-notch school district, as that tax revenue is a big source of funding for expenses like school upkeep and teachers’ salaries. But when you can save hundreds of thousands of dollars on the cost of the house itself, your property taxes will be lower, too.
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