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What Costs More: Private School or Public School? A Guest Post by Chris Ajemian of CATES Tutoring

This month, we explore the costs of Private School vs the cost of Real Estate
Chris Ajemian knows a thing or two about educating kids;  he is the founder and CEO of CATES Tutoring, which has an impeccable record helping children via tutoring services, and preparation for the SAT and College Admissions.  I thought Chris would have some unconventional ideas to share; it turns out I was right.
So, here’s the big question for the month:  What is more expensive? Private school, or public school?  It turns out the answer is not that simple…Thanks to Chris for providing this excellent article for the Harris Residential Team.  
by: Chris Ajemian
Finding the best education for your kids has become something of a national pastime for American parents—a reality more prominent than ever before in today’s age of Tiger Moms and Helicopter Dads. New York City, where the education system is more complex and competitive than most, offers a uniquely challenging proposition for parents seeking the best educational opportunities for their children while remaining realistic about cost.

The American Pastimes: Baseball and School Admissions

Of course, virtually nothing in New York is cheap. But what may surprise some new parents is that this can be as true for the city’s public schools as it is for New York’s famously wide array of elite private institutions. Why? It all comes down to real estate. Across the US, but especially in NYC, housing prices in highly-ranked public school districts tend to be significantly higher than those in areas with lower-ranked schools. An analysis by Trulia suggests that houses in highly-regarded school districts can cost more than twice the national average per square foot.
This means that your real estate choices in New York are firmly linked to education. Parents pay close attention to school performance ratings and are likely to hand over more cash to be near public schools with higher scores. So, even if you don’t have children of your own, you’ll pay more to be near a “good” school. If you can manage the initial cost, however, you’re likely to end up with a better investment in the long term—a highly-rated school district will improve both your property’s resilience to shifts in the real estate market and its ultimate resale value.
What does this mean for those of us with kids? The first big takeaway is that you need to start seriously considering your child’s schooling early: the sooner the better, frankly, but certainly within 12–24 months of birth, which will position you to apply to a pre-K program suited to yours and your child’s needs.
In New York, public pre-K programs are zoned by district—and although you can apply to programs outside your district, your child will be given less priority than residents. Also important to bear in mind: parents applying to preschool programs should usually begin the process at least a year before their child will attend. Your choice of location, therefore, will begin impacting upon your child’s educational opportunities almost as soon as they are born. It’s a similar story for private 2s and 3s programs: although your choices will not be limited by school district, admissions cycles start in September, and your research should begin no later than the prior spring.
The situation becomes no less complex as your child prepares to enter kindergarten at age 5. Private school admissions move quite quickly, and it’s recommended to start the application process the September before your child enters kindergarten—and begin your research the spring before that. As for public options, it’s best to apply in the spring before your child starts school. Although you do not, technically, need to apply to your zoned kindergarten or public elementary school, you do run the risk of your desired institution being full. If this happens, your child will be assigned to another school (and perhaps not one that you’re satisfied with). As ever, starting early serves to keep your options open and improve the likelihood of securing your desired results.
For many New York parents, choosing between public and private schooling is another key challenge in this process. Many factors will influence this choice, from finances to parental philosophy to your child’s educational needs, extracurricular interests, and social groups. From a purely financial standpoint, however, the public v. private decision is not as clear-cut as it may appear.
As mentioned, NYC properties in desirable school districts usually carry a significant “surcharge”—often totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more!). When balancing where to buy a home and how to provide their children with the best quality of education, therefore, many New Yorkers discover a slightly counterintuitive reality: private school can, in fact, be cheaper than public.
In my own experience, after considering an apartment in the coveted PS 321 district (and the additional costs associated with it), we opted instead for a terrific place near the site of Barclays Center prior to its construction. In itself, this proved to be an excellent investment—and what’s more, it freed up the finances to send our kids to a Brooklyn-area private school rather than a public institution. In other words, it’s entirely possible that you’ll find a more affordable arrangement by selecting a home in a less desirable school district and educating your kids privately than you would were you to buy a place in one of the most coveted school zones.
Naturally, real estate choices also impact educational opportunities beyond the realm of finances—it’s also about community. Children’s education happens in both formal and informal settings. That is to say, your kids learn as much from the people with whom you interact and from those in their peer group as they do from their teachers. The community your children see and engage with every day, whether it’s friends at school, people on the sidewalk or kids in the playground, shapes their view of the world. For this reason, many parents in New York are swayed towards public schools by their greater ethnic and economic diversity, in the belief that exposing their children to people of different cultures and backgrounds will provide important skills for navigating life in an increasingly competitive and globalized society. These advantages, of course, are conferred not only by the school your child attends, but also the neighborhood in which they live.

As the old saying goes, “there are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.” In today’s world, however, we might consider updating the saying to “location, location, education.” It’s simply that important. So remember: start early, know your needs, and understand the different options available to you. Within the first 12–24 months of birth, parents need to make a decision on education that will impact the next 15–18 years for each child, and this decision must inform real estate choices, now and in the future.

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