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July 29, 2009


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Why not get involved with the school now to make it better rather than leaving it to someone else.

I would tell him to wait a bit before moving. The baby is not going to go to school for several years and his job situation is not predictable in that time. Also, home prices might go down further in the next couple years. There is no need to move right away once a baby arrives.

This really comes down to a number of factors in your life. It sounds like it will ultimately cost you more to move, but that's hard to say for sure because so much of it depends on future factors (will you always be commuting so long, will property values in the new neighborhood increase more than your current neighborhood because of the better schools, etc).

From my perspective...I spent 8 years in Catholic school, and then 4 in public high school in one of the best school systems in our state. I WAY preferred the public school -- so many more opportunities, so many more resources, so many different types of people to interact with rather than the same 60 people for 8 years. It made a lasting impression on my life -- IMO, a great public school is better than almost any private school. The other benefit of moving is that being close to extended family can be great when you get along with them...when you need something (like someone to take care of your daughter), they'll be there.

The longer commutes are a definite bummer though.

We need to know some things first..
1) how long is your commute right now? If it is only 15 min then a 40 min commute isnt that bad. If you are already traveling an hour, it might be a bit much to be traveling 1.5 hours each way.
2) Not sure about private elementary and hs school loans, but at least you could deduct the interest on a new house, rather than taking loans for school or paying cash out of pocket.
3) You will most likely be sending her to college soon as well, so you will need to pony up at least another 100k as for that (assuming no scholarships).If you spend 100k on pre college schooling, you have no physical assets to show for it.. with the house, you still have that extra 150k value in the house.
4) You say possibly only child. Things can change, expectedly or unexpectedly. If you are unsure if she is going to be your only child or not, financially, you are better off moving.

The fact pattern described is very similar to the same decision I had 18 months ago. The new area of town that we were looking at was $150K more for a house (although the home had more square footage and numerous upgrades) but the area had a substantially better school district. Moving to the new town would add an additional 25 minutes to my commute.

We decided to move. Although I purchased more home than I could really afford at the time (that's a separate discussion) I have received good salary increases and we are comfortable with the payment now. I am very satisfied that we made the decision to move. I do think about my mortgage payment being $1000 more every month and wonder if we made the right decision. I also miss my shorter commutes, but after seeing the children integrate into the new school and make new friends I have no regrets. You can't put a price tag on the wellness/success of your children. I would make the decision again.

I would move, no matter what the commute or home cost, from a "terrible" school system. It depends on whether you think private school or a better public school is a better choice. At least the cost of the nicer house you (in theory) get back later.

What about the school system is "terrible"? Are there hard data out there (like aggregate test scores) that prove this out? And even if there are, does that necessarily mean that your child won't be able to succeed?

Ask those questions before relocating to another house at significant cost. I'll save you the suspense - there will be problems with the school system in the new location, too.

"are there hard data" wow. Obviously, there are truly terrible schools out there, and we all know it.

Wait. Save money for 4-5 years until the kid is old enough to actually go to school and then decide. Lots can change in 4-5 years.

I'd also look into other potential options. Do the school districts allow you to go to another school outside your district? Are there any charter schools? Are their scholarships at private schools?

If they haven't yet then I also agree with Brad that they should dig further to find out if the schools are "terrible" or not. Are they relying on anecdotal evidence from 1-2 friends or relatives? Or is there real data showing the schools are far below average in test scores, crime rate, drop out rates, etc. There are certainly "terrible" schools out there but there are also parents who think the school is terrible for poor reasons.

Our situation is the same, but we have 3 kids. We have sent them all to private Catholic school since pre-K, all on just my husband's police officer salary. The schools are BAD in all respects. The better school districts are too far away from everything we know; We have made the right decision (albeit an expensive one) not to leave the area (we, too, are close to family). It just takes faith and a bit of sacrifice. Good Luck!

dogate - if there are no hard data, then it is simply hearsay. Maybe you would be comfortable relocating your whole family, incurring moving costs and transaction costs, and paying an additional $150k for a house based simply on hearsay. I would not.

Do not move. Try the private school and see how it works out. The commute time adds up and impacts quality of life.

Wait and see... 5 years is a while and the school systems will change in that time (for good and bad). Reevaluate when the child is in kindergarden.

My parents stayed in an area with not-so-great public schools and sent me to private school. While I liked the school, I was with the same 70-80 students from grades 1-12 and, while I received an excellent education, extra opportunities (like art, drama, music, sports, etc...) were severely limited. I am still friends with only couple of my fellow students, as I did not fit in particularly well. 20 years later the public schools in the same area are now horrible; my parents are still happy with their decision and still like their house--but now they have to be, as their house is worth dramatically less than a similar house in one of the areas with "good" schools 20 years ago. They do not feel like they can live in a retirement community because the sale of their current house will not fund the purchase of one in a community.

In retrospect, I wish they had sent me to private school until middle/high school (for a good academic foundation), and then moved so I could go to a public school with increased opportunities and they could live in a nicer community. I probably could have graduated much higher in my class and gone to a better college (as I saw others in public school do), and they would now have a house worth a decent amount of money. Keeping an open mind and changing course as you see patterns emerging is probably a good idea.

@dogatemyfinances: The word "data" is commonly used in English as a plural noun; therefore, @Bad_Brad's grammar is correct.

*It* is. (singular noun)
*They* are. (plural noun)

I also went to public school.

Smartypants - maybe so, but the sentence does sound awkward.

To everyone else: Here is Grammar Girl's grammar lesson:

First off I gotta say thanks for all the advise and opions. Its cool to see my question posted on FMF. As far as the school system there is hard data on bad it is. My commute would go from 15 to 40 minutes. Thanks everyone.

Ben --

I LOVE Grammar Girl!!!!!

Have you considered staying where you are and homeschooling? You can easily homeschool for free or almost free; especially in the early years. Here are a couple of sites to start with. and

Purely from a financial standpoint, moving is your best bet. The cost of tuition will only increase with inflation over time, so it could end up being well over $100K total. Plus that is a straight expense with no upside other than a good education for your child.

Moving also gets your child a good education, but that "expense" is also an investment. You can shoulder the whole cost now (with the ability to borrow for it at low tax reduced rates) so you know what it is and it won't increase each year. Also, your equity will grow significantly over that time period (even if home prices stay level you'll be paying down the mortgage). Plus, the more expensive home will get you larger tax deductions. In addition, the value of the new home may be more stable than your current one since the school system is great.

Bad schools aren't always so bad.

I was raised in a poor town with not very good schools. My parents encouraged a love of learning and reading in all 8 of us kids, and we've all turned out well so far.

While I would've liked to have had better class options like more languages (only Spanish offered), more AP classes (only 3 AP classes offered) and a newer school (1930s?!?) things turned out alright.

My siblings and I have all ended up at good universities so far, graduating with kids who had gone to much better schools.

Maybe don't be so quick to write off a crummy school. It might not be the best, but it might be enough.

...of course if you mean it's a bad school with gangs and such, that might be a good reason to not go there...

If you live in a good house on a great street in a great location, then likely the schools are filled with similar people to you that care about their kids. I know in our neighborhood while the district is not that great, the individual schools can actually be quite excellent with great support networks.

Sounds like the best advice I've heard so far falls in line with this:
Don't move now, wait to see what your life is when you should, at a younger age the schools may be fine.

Also, commuting sucks your life away. If you and your wife have to be in the car an extra 30 min each way that's 500 hours per year that you're wasting. Over the course of the year, that's the equivalent of sucking 6.25 working weeks of your life away (250 hours each per year, 40 hour weeks, 6.25 weeks per year wasted). Could you imagine how much better your kids life would be with 6.25 extra weeks every year with their parents? I find it interesting that people are so willing to pinch pennies of which there are always more, but willing to waste lots of time of which there is only a finite amount.

I vote you stay put and put the child in private school. From personal experience we did this exact thing and I'm glad we did. We have 3 kids though so the cost is much higher. Public schools can be good but private is so much better for so many reasons. Money shouldn't be the primary reason in this decision. A child's education is so important these days. Jesuits run great schools, if you can find one go for it.

*********** MOVE **********

If you care about your daughters future success, then get to a place where schools are GREAT. Their success is 'almost' guaranteed given a little support and boost.

If she becomes a Pharmacist because of this, she would earn and equivalent of $120K in SF or $110K in Chicago. She could pay off a lot of your debt, and never be a burden on you.

There are LOTS of homes in great neighborhoods and great conveniences, but they have terrible schools, BUT, there are great neighborhoods, great surrounding, access to highways, and GREAT schools (great is defined by Average ACT/SAT Scores, Number of Kids going for further Education, Average Teacher to Student Ratio, Programs offered by the school, and other variables).

But, but, but.....There are enough people thinking like this. Therefore, those neighborhoods are expensive. But, you buy a more expensive home (suck up the higher mortgage), and then will be selling for higher prices. So, it balances out, but now your daughter is earning some big bucks 10-20 years from now!

Private school is not worth it, since just by making it a private school, it might not guarantee you the results. Compare school OBJECTIVELY based on the above parameters, and THEN decide what you should do......

Isn't that worth it?

PS: I did not just say all this, but made the move 5 years ago with my kids still in school and pay $12K in just real estate taxes for our home, out of which $8100 goes to the school, which is REALLY what makes our schools GREAT (Average ACT/SAT Score is 23.2 as of July'2009, and that is the highest in my BIG Metro City).

Good luck with your decision......You know my Vote!


Just a creative idea.... I know of people who have rented in better school districts temporarily (to get their kid into the good school) and then moved back to their original home once the kid is established in the school. This will work if you are only required to show evidence of home address at the time of application.

While this is not exactly in the spirit of school-zoning regulations, there are people who do it...

Buying a house definitely exciting but so hard to decide on which to buy. There are lots of fields to check like your budget and house location preferences.

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