How to Choose the Right School for Your Kids Before You Move

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There are many factors that go into choosing a new home … the size, the layout, the number of bedrooms and the cost. But if you’re a parent, soon-to-be-parent or a someday-parent, then there’s another thing you really have to factor in: the school.

As a teacher, a soon-to-be mom and a homeowner who just moved to be in the school district of her dreams, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately! When looking for a new home, my husband and I narrowed down the location based on the best public school district in our area. There were plenty of homes we loved that were outside of the exact district lines, but we chose to ignore those open houses so we could concentrate specifically on finding the home AND school of our dreams for our child.

But how do you even go about finding the best school for your child? What information is important to consider? That’s what today’s “lesson plan” is all about!

Consider Private vs. Public

First up, you need to choose between private or public schooling. The primary difference between these two options comes down to funding. Public schools typically receive government funding, whereas private schools charge tuition for each student. Let’s look at how that impacts other critical factors.

The Cost of Schooling

Here’s the 101 on private and public school financials.

Because public schools are financed through federal, state and local taxes, they must follow all the rules set by the government. Unfortunately, sometimes this can lead to some public school systems being underfunded. For us in the Chicagoland area, the location of the district makes a big difference for how well-funded it is. Obviously, better funded public schools are often found where the average housing costs are higher. Therefore, families often pay extra in housing costs to live in the “ideal” neighborhoods in order to be in the best public school districts. When it comes to admission, by law, public schools must accept all children. And a lot of kids are attending public school … about 90% of children in America, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Conversely, private schools generate their own funding through tuition, private grants and fundraising efforts. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, the median tuition fee for private schools is close to $12,000 per year. Often times parochial schools charge much less than that (around $3,000 per year), whereas boarding schools often come with a higher price tag (up to $37,000 per year).

Because these institutions are in demand, private schools can be selective when it comes to admission. This means that the admission process often involves interviews, essays and testing for each student.

The Best Location

But how does choosing public or private affect where you’re going to live?

If you choose the private school route, you’ll have a bit more leeway into where you choose to settle down. But of course, you will want to consider your child’s commute to school every day. Often times private schools do not offer transportation, or if they do, it’s with extra fees, so making sure your child will have a safe and efficient way to get to and from their private school is definitely something to consider.

Public schools are a little more complex. Namely, there are specific district lines that you must live within in order to send your child there. In fact, all districts require proof of residency before you can enroll your kids in a public school. When you’re searching for a new home, often the listing on sites like Zillow and Redfin will include the nearby schools and give a “School Rating.” But if you’re buying a home, it’s always best to call the district to verify, especially because district lines can suddenly change and the real estate site’s information may not accurately reflect this updated information just yet.

Check out a School’s Report Card

Just like kids, schools get report cards too! But it’s up to you to do your homework online to gather all of this crucial info. Both GreatSchools.org and The National Center for Education Statistics offer data for each school district, including information on test scores, education programs, graduation rates, and teacher quality.

When it comes to teachers, there is a difference in certification between public and private schools. Teachers in public schools are usually state certified, whereas teachers in private schools may not be required to have certification. They often have subject-matter expertise or an undergraduate degree in the subject they teach, but actually don’t always have to meet the standards that the state outlines for a teaching license.

Also, don’t forget to review the curriculum at the schools you’re considering!

This isn’t always the same between private and public schools. Public schools follow state guidelines, a curriculum that must meet specific standards and common state assessments, while private schools have the freedom to design their own curriculum and don’t always mandate standardized tests.

To get real reviews from other parents about their school satisfaction, you can check out GreatSchools.org. Here, parents write detailed reviews about their school’s curriculum, class sizes and thoughts on the teachers. This real talk may be insightful as you narrow down your top choices.

Consider Your Child’s Personality

But those “report cards” don’t always give the full picture. Because every child is different, be sure to think about the unique qualities and characteristics of your child when choosing a school. The right combination is not always super obvious.

With that in mind, when finalizing your top school contenders don’t forget to review:

  • Class sizes
  • Student-teacher ratio
  • Special education needs
  • Accelerated programs
  • Extracurricular activities

Make sure you’re giving your child what they need from their education! Consider questions like these: Is your child introverted? Does she like a particular sport? Does he need special attention or accommodations? Answer these crucial questions about your child while thinking about the list above.

Private schools may have programs for gifted students and can specialize programs to offer extra curriculum surrounding the arts or technology. However, most private schools are not able to fully accommodate students with learning disabilities. Because public schools have a responsibility to teach all students, they often have programs set up and funded just for children with individualized academic or developmental needs.

Extra Credit: Ask the Neighbors

If you’re really interested in a neighborhood and school, speak to parents in that area. This is a great way to gauge the area and see if the parents there are satisfied. If you find glowing reviews from real parents, chances are you can trust that they are doing a stellar job!


When it comes to deciding between private or public school (and choosing a school district), it’s important to remember that it’s a very personal choice for you and your family. There is no right or wrong answer. Do your homework, but at the end of the day know that only you can make the best decision for your family.

As for me, even though my baby isn’t here yet, I’m happy to know that when school time eventually gets here we already have our ideal home and school district all planned out for his future. That’s because we did our homework before we started searching for a new home!

The Stuff That’s Illegal to Bring Into Texas

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Relocating to Texas, like relocating anywhere, comes with the responsibility of knowing the laws of the land. Every state differs, and some states are stricter than others. But when it comes to what you can and cannot transport across state lines – and what you can or can’t possess once you’re there – we are sure there is no state quite like Texas.

Here are all the things that are illegal to bring into Texas, broken down by type. Welcome to the wild, mild west.

Fruits and Vegetables

While Texas may have a reputation for oil wells and football teams, the state also boasts a humongous $100 billion agriculture industry. It is no surprise then that they have more than a few rules regarding what fruits and vegetables can’t be brought over state lines.

The good news is the Texas Department of Agriculture spells out all the rules right here in this document. The bad news is this document is 21 pages long and uses a lot of big words. If you’re the type to snack on exotic fruit with hard-to-pronounce names, you may want to read carefully over the TDA’s rules. For the rest of us, here are the basics:

Of particular interest is the citrus fruit family. As the Southwest Farm Press states, “With very few exceptions, no citrus plants, or even pieces of citrus plants are allowed into the state from anywhere.” The National Plant Board gets a bit more technical, explaining (on page seven) that, “any living or non-living rootstock, leaf, root, stem, limb, twig, fruit, seed, seedling or other part of any plant in the botanical family Rutaceae, subfamily Aurantioideae.” As citrus is a huge part of the Texas economy, even one bad plant could potentially ruin entire crops.

In addition to citrus fruits, Texas has plenty of prohibitions in place. If you’re coming from Florida or Puerto Rico, these things are some of the major items prohibited:

  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Bell peppers
  • Blackberries

There are more than 50 kinds of fruits, vegetables, berries and spices that Texas prohibits coming from down south, due to Caribbean Fruit Fly infestation.

If you’re coming from anywhere in the US (except California, Arizona and parts of New Mexico), Texas also prohibits:

  • Hickory trees
  • Pecan trees
  • Walnut trees

As well as “…(any) parts thereof, except extracted nut meats”, thanks to the never-popular pecan weevil.

Finally, these vegetable plants are not restricted but heavily regulated coming from anywhere, due to a whole host of diseases and pests:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Collards
  • Peppers
  • Onions
  • Eggplants

It’s all right here in this exhaustive “Summary of Plant Protection Regulations from the Texas Department of Agriculture. Give it a read if you have the time and the will. Or just play it simple and leave every last lemon, walnut and berry behind.

Pets

We have some good news for all you Texas-bound pet owners. The Lone Star State merely requires that all dogs and cats be certified as rabies-vaccinated.

The bad news is that something as simple (and responsible) as keeping Rover on a legal leash requires a watch, a map, a thermometer, a tape measure and a weather forecast. According to Texas statute “§ 821.077. Unlawful Restraint of Dog” :

  • (a) An owner may not leave a dog outside and unattended by use of a restraint that unreasonably limits the dog’s movement:
  • (1) between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.;
  • (2) within 500 feet of the premises of a school; or
  • (3) in the case of extreme weather conditions, including conditions in which:
  • (A) the actual or effective outdoor temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • (B) a heat advisory has been issued by a local or state authority or jurisdiction; or
  • (C) a hurricane, tropical storm, or tornado warning has been issued for the jurisdiction by the National Weather Service.
  • (b) In this section, a restraint unreasonably limits a dog’s movement if the restraint:
  • (1) uses a collar that is pinch-type, prong-type, or choke-type or that is not properly fitted to the dog;
  • (2) is a length shorter than the greater of:
  • (A) five times the length of the dog, as measured from the tip of the dog’s nose to the base of the dog’s tail; or
  • (B) 10 feet;
  • (3) is in an unsafe condition; or
  • (4) causes injury to the dog.

Considering all this, it might just be easier to get a tiger.

We’re not kidding. Reading the Texas laws regarding owning exotic animals – including lions, tigers, bears and gorillas (seriously) – it seems only as difficult to register a “dangerous wild animal” as it does a pickup truck.

(While we’re at it, we’ll mention that it is legal in Texas to own flamethrowers, venomous snakes and, for the truly under-stimulated, military-grade tanks.)

But back to the world most of us inhabit. If you are relocating to Texas, you should know that certain species of fish and other aquatic life are prohibited. Despite their lengthy explanation on the environmental and economical destruction wreaked by the lionfish, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department doesn’t list this non-native critter among their outlawed types of marine life. Here are just a few of the fish that are prohibited:

  • Tilapia
  • Piranhas
  • Freshwater Stingrays
  • Freshwater Eels
  • Temperate Basses
  • Oysters

All resources and information considered, it seems reasonable to believe you’re okay bringing your parakeet with you to your new home in Texas. But we strongly recommend checking with your local authorities as to what laws apply to your pets. As an example, in Waco, all dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies; all pets must be spayed/neutered and microchipped; dog houses must have at least three walls in addition to a roof and a floor that is not the ground; and no, you cannot give your pet its rabies shot yourself.

Alcohol

The good news here is that Texas puts no limits or taxes on any alcoholic beverages you are transporting into the state, as long as you are in the process of relocating to Texas and the alcohol in your possession is intended for personal consumption only.

The bad news is that the Texas heat will skunk your swill faster than you can say “Lone Star Lager”. So you better hope that your’s isn’t a long distance move in the heat.

Keep in mind, however, that once you are actually settled in the Lone Star State, you’ll be subjected to fines and/or jail time if you fail to declare that case of tequila on your way home from Mexico, or any other alcohol you bought out of state and are transporting back into Texas.

As for figuring out the laws in your particular municipality for purchasing beer, wine or liquor, good luck.

Plants

Texas has no apparent problems with houseplants that are grown indoors in a commercially-prepared potting mix (rather than in soil) and are free of pests and diseases. These may enter Texas without certification.

However, according to the same “Texas Dept. of Agriculture Summary of Plant Protection Regulations” we saw earlier, “houseplants grown or kept outdoors require a phytosanitary certificate from the department of agriculture of the origin state indicating freedom from pests and diseases.”

We’ll be blatantly honest here. There seems no guarantee that your word will be good enough if someone wearing a TDA uniform asks if you’ve ever put your rubber tree plant out on the patio or the front porch, and you say no.

And just in case you were wondering, you can’t bring all that firewood for your backyard chiminea. Texas doesn’t even like Texans moving firewood from one part of the state to another, for fear of spreading potential or active infestations. Check out the Texas info on DontMoveFirewood.org – and consider giving that chiminea a good washing too before trying to carry that across the border into Texas.

Firearms

And what would Texas be without guns? In keeping with their wild, wild west reputation, the state makes it easy for lawful firearms carriers from other states to legally carry in Texas, either through reciprocal or unilateral agreements with those other states. In other words, just like having a driver’s license from another state allows you to legally drive in Texas, having a permit to carry a firearm in another state allows you to legally carry your firearm in Texas.

The analogy is not perfect, of course. Texas has no firearm-carry agreements with Oregon, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, Vermont or New Hampshire. And while you have 90 days upon relocating to Texas to switch your driver’s license over, there is no requirement whatsoever to register your firearm in the State of Texas.

None.

How’s that for wild?

It’s not complete anarchy, of course. “Texas requires any individual in possession of a handgun to inform a law enforcement officer of their permit or license to carry if an officer asks them for identification.” Texas also spells out restrictions and requirements regarding carrying in vehicles, open carry and places where carrying is illegal.

As far as transporting your firearm from your old state to your new home in Texas, your most pressing concern might be following the laws of the various states you may be passing through along your way.

In some ways, Texas seems like an almost lawless land. In others, the laws can seem unduly convoluted. You can have a gun. You can get a tiger. Just be sure to leave the tangerines behind!


Illustrations by Subin Yang

The Perils of Driving Your Truck Uninsured

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In the heat of the summer rush or in a pinch, have you ever had one of your guys drive when they weren’t supposed to? We don’t want you to answer that – but think about it. Were you nervous they might get into an accident? Or even just get pulled over? How relieved were you when you saw them pull safely back into the yard?

If you’ve ever had to let one of your guys drive down the road and around the corner, or if you one day find yourself stuck without a driver and feel like tempting fate, we want to share the story of Seattle’s Can’t Stop Moving who, true to their name, didn’t let Washington’s driving regulations slow them down.

On the road, they had no evident issues. But it was a routine inspection by the state that put the brakes on them, fining them $51,900 for the violations, which were as follows: Drivers without medical certification, drivers with suspended licenses and trucks that hadn’t been regularly inspected. The guys operating Can’t Stop Moving’s trucks may have been extremely safe drivers. Nevertheless, their crimes were uncovered. 

You movers out there all have your own unique set of circumstances. You know what you can and can’t do. And we all know how crazy things get in the summer.

For all practical purposes, being safe on the road is what counts.

But for the state, following the rules is just as important. Just ask Can’t Stop Moving.

The Stuff That’s Illegal to Bring Into California

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Question: What do pecan shells, ferrets and flamethrowers have in common?

Answer: They are all things you can’t bring into the state of California.

(more…)

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