Are Arbitrary School District Boundaries Distorting Real Estate Values?

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Lakewood Elementary is a sought-after attendance area within Dallas ISD.
Lakewood Elementary is a sought-after attendance area within Dallas ISD.

A recent column by Heather Wilhelm highlights a huge issue in America: In order to get into a good public school, you often have to spend more on a home. Heck, brokerages have developed search tools to help you focus on the school attendance areas you want, weeding out perfectly good homes that have imperfect schools.

Wilhelm, a political columnist in Austin, dissects the intersection between public education and real estate in her recent Dallas Morning News Op-Ed, “Public Schools — The Craziest Government Program of Them All.” For the most prescient example, look at HPISD and the Lakewood Elementary attendance area.

Read on for more.

With so many oddities in our current system, it’s hard to know where to start. Across America, arbitrary school district lines radically distort real estate markets. Anyone who has house-shopped in the U.S. knows one sad truth: Better school districts command a premium. (The other truth is that you probably won’t like the kitchen.) Despite lofty government rhetoric regarding free and equal public education, the fact remains that better-off families can buy their way into better schools.

It gets crazier, because despite this disparity, public school funding doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. The average American public school spends $11,455 per pupil, and that’s just the average: Washington, D.C., home of legendarily horrible schools — among eighth-graders, 17 percent are proficient in reading and 19 percent proficient in math — spends upwards of $18,000 per student. That’s from the U.S. Census Bureau; the Cato Institute estimates that D.C. might actually spend $25,000 per pupil. Nationally, inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending has tripled since 1970. Test scores have been flat.

I also find it interesting that, per pupil, private schools spend far less than your average public campus. It’s fascinating. Read the whole thing and then tell us: Are arbitrary boundaries causing pockets of poverty and wealth and distorting home values?


Joanna England

If Executive Editor Joanna England could house hunt forever, she absolutely would. Instead she covers the North Texas housing market and the economy for While she started out with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, Joanna's work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News as well as several local media outlets. When she's not knitting or hooping, or enjoying White Rock Lake, she's behind the lens of her camera. She lives in East Dallas with her husband, son, and their furry and feathered menagerie.

Reader Interactions


  1. mmCandy Evans says

    This is just what I have been preaching for years! And my children are now living it, too, stuck n a small house in a neighborhood they chose purely for the schools. Sadly, I have lived in Dallas for 34 years and seen very little change. I looked at public schools in North Dallas for my kids — couldn’t do it. Look at them today, 30 years and millions later, no major improvement. We were fortunate enough to send our kiddo to private school but it meant I had two kids instead of four and we made some sacrifices along the way, nothing major. (And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.) I also believe the early school years are the most important, most formative, more important maybe even than college. So what this fabulous writer is saying just resonates with me like she’s gotten inside my head. Why oh why do we spend more money per pupil in the public schools for worse results than we do in private schools? Probably because private school kids are not as needy. Private school teachers make way less than public school teachers, but many don’t mind a lower salary because the students are more motivated and better behaved. I just wish more parents would realize that an education is a precious commodity, and not take it for granted or abuse it because it is free. Children should wear uniforms (I think) and go to school rested and prepared. But of course, I’m asking for a parental utopia, which does not exist. Still, it is people asking questions like these that may ultimately help us get the system back on tract.

  2. dormand says

    For a compelling example of the scenario in a Los Angeles elementay school in which the boundaries include both an uber upscale Hollywood scriptwriter heavy community who want their children to have the public school diversity experience as well as a housing project which has some lowest socioeconomic families, you may find this Pre-Rupert Wall Street Journal Page One piece of interest:

  3. Crystal S. says

    There is an amazing book called The Two Income Trap that addresses this very issue. Read it in 2003 and it changed the way I look at houses. Although the author is now widely known, at the time she was only known in very small circles.

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