Top public schools: Under $100,000

From Texas towns to Southern suburbs, these top 10 cities offer families outperforming public schools and median home prices under $100K.

By GreatSchools Staff

Harrison, Ark.

Harrison, Ark.

Education quality score: 80.01
Median home price: $99,800
Population: 13,108

Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, this rural gem offers folksy thrills: Crawdad Days Music Festival, Hemmed in Hollow Waterfalls, Arkansas Hot Air Balloon State Championship Race, and Buffalo National River. Founded in 1869, Harrison has a historic district and job opportunities in manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism. Fed Ex Freight hires 1,400 people; North Arkansas College maintains a staff of 240.

The Harrison High School Goblins are a perennial gridiron menace, capturing the state championship in 1999. The Goblin Booster Club recently collected $7 million — primarily from local businesses — to build a new football stadium that seats 5,600 (half the town). The pupils also kick academic butt: Three schools are rated 10, and four are 9's. With its well-developed gifted and talented program and an intimate 12.5-to-1 student-teacher ratio, Harrison offers serious book learning in a mountain idyll.

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Richmond, Texas

Richmond, Texas

Education quality score: 78.62
Median home price: $91,540
Population: 13,404

Tradition is important in this friendly Houston suburb that touts one of our list's most diverse populations: 51.2% white, 10.55% African American, 3.53% Asian, and 58.71% Hispanic (of all races). Richmond — founded in 1822 — has a graveyard chock-full of Lone Star characters: Jane Long (aka "the mother of Texas"), Deaf Smith (spy, scout, and Texas Ranger), and Mirabeau Lamar (second president of the Texas Republic). Beyond its 14 baseball fields and fire department parade with a 1925 Model T pumper truck and Dalmatian mascot, Richmond’s most amazing attraction has to be Hilmar G. Moore, who, as the nation's longest-termed mayor, has held office since 1949.

Guided by this bluntly honest and fiscally frugal octogenarian, the students of Richmond have thrived. Five of its elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school all have robust GreatSchools 9 ratings, with highly praised teachers, impressive sports and science programs, and enthusiastic parental involvement. The mayor's longevity and expertise are duplicated in the faculty: 49.2% have been there for 10 or more years, with 27.9% wielding advanced degrees. In Richmond experience creates excellence.

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Webb City, Mo.

Webb City, Mo.

Education quality score: 78.13
Median home price: $88,160
Population: 11,302

This tiny town is massively accomplished — indoors and out. Webb City has one of Missouri's best farmers markets, three war-hero monuments, a recently renovated library, a state-of-the-art tennis and fitness club, an acclaimed band that marches in the Rose Bowl, abundant parks, street murals, and an amphitheater. The Webb City High School Cardinals are nearly invincible in football; they've won eight state championships in the past two decades. Academically, Webb City schools are recognized as an "outperformer" by Standard and Poor’s because they've exceeded state expectations in 13 of the past 14 years. One facility — Harry S. Truman Elementary — boasts a GreatSchools 10 score, and every other institution is at least an 8.

Webb City taxpayers are willing to invest in scholastic excellence — they recently approved a $2 million bond to build four additional classrooms. But the primary ingredient in the district's success is Dr. Ron Lankford, the superintendent for the past 12 years, with a total of 40 years served in the district. Lankford was elected 2009's Missouri School Administrator of the Year by the Missouri Association of School Administrators, lauded as "one of the most effective school administrators in Missouri" in the Turner Report blog, and praised by state Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro as "respected for his expertise and leadership in financial management and academic issues." Sadly for locals, Lankford is moving up the ladder in August 2010 to become the state's deputy education commissioner.

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Texarkana, Texas

Texarkana, Texas

Education quality score: 74.42
Median home price: $85,120
Population: 36,131

Ross Perot's hometown is also the birthplace of famous athletes (Eddie Matthews) and musicians (Scott Joplin). With 37% of its population African American and 34.8% of its children living below the poverty line, Texarkana deserves a standing ovation for its high academic achievement and socioeconomic diversity. Parental involvement is high, and the thrifty administration consistently achieves large results on a tight budget.

Four schools have perfect-10 GreatSchools scores, including the specialized Martha & John Morriss Math & Engineering Elementary School. Perot's alma mater — Texas High — produces more National Merit scholars than any rival in northeast Texas (47% of its faculty have master's degrees.) Like the maverick Perot, the district encourages creative initiative: Its IT department offers training videos, and the Texarkana Public Schools Foundation delivers $10,000 grants to innovative educators.

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Angleton, Texas

Angleton, Texas

Education quality score: 74.19
Median home price: $86,720
Population: 18,640

This cozy suburb of Houston is one of three school districts on this list near the inexpensive metropolis. Tiny Angleton has the hometown pride and civic support enjoyed by many small Texas towns, but it also has its particular bragging rights: It hosts the state's largest county fair, and its congressman is Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican presidential candidate.

But for the past five years, its most unusual civic amenity has been Dr. Heath Burns, arguably the warmest, fuzziest superintendent in the nation. In his newsletter, Burns urges parents to “start reading with your babies early and don’t stop reading to them until they won’t fit in your lap.” He tell parents “the most valuable gift you can give your babies (whatever their ages) is to love them fully and unconditionally... Squeeze Em’, Kiss Em’, Play with Em’, Love Em’.” Unfortunately for Angleton, Burns left recently — in January — to become superintendent in Abilene, Texas, but his supportive tradition is maintained.

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Bristol, Tenn.

Bristol, Tenn.

Education quality score: 73.22
Median home price: $85,850
Population: 25,474

Varoom! This midsize town with the NASCAR Motor Speedway is accelerating its young people into the future. Famous for being the "birthplace of country music" and the hometown of Tennessee Ernie Ford, Bristol boasts recreational thrills: the Appalachian Trail, six golf courses, caverns, lakes, and creeks. America's Promise Alliance selected Bristol as one of the 100 best communities for young people, due to its low crime rate, cultural amenities (ballet, theater, and art), new public library (150,000 books), and highly acclaimed school system.

Washington Lee Elementary — located across the state line in the twin city of Bristol, Va. — has the best local rating (8 on GreatSchools), with abundant praise for its teaching staff. Bristol families receive generous support from local organizations like King Pharmaceuticals, the Massengill-DeFriece Foundation, Bristol Speedway Children's Charities, King College, and Northeast State Community College. Demographics here are quite "pale" — 95.5% white, 2.97% African American, .68% Hispanic, and .64% Asian. However, Bristol has socioeconomic diversity, with 19.4% of its children living below the poverty line.

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Nederland, Texas

Nederland, Texas

Education quality score: 72.83
Median home price: $95,460
Population: 16,178

Oddly named town for the Longhorn State? Yup. Nederland was settled by Dutch families in 1897, and they’re still here with their history whirling in the Windmill Museum. This suburb between Beaumont and Port Arthur houses many oil refinery workers, with a demographic that’s 6.5% Hispanic, 2.2% Asian, and 93.5% white, plus a spicy influx of Cajuns and Creoles from nearby Louisiana.

The no-nonsense Nederland administration has a strict dress code for grades 5-12 — dark skirts or trousers with polo or oxford shirts. No baggy jeans or wrinkled T’s here! Top-rated is Hillcrest Elementary — a Texas Business and Education Coalition Honor Roll school for seven consecutive years. Hillcrest pupils broke their piggy banks to donate $1,400 to Haiti. They understand disaster because Hurricane Ike drowned Nederland in 2008 (no Dutch dikes, yet). The community is devoted to curbing crime and promoting performance arts, and credit for the stellar scholastics goes to Gail Krohn, who retired in November 2009 after 12 years as superintendent and 42 years in the district. Nederland also excels in its educational technology, with numerous tutorial videos and online programs available for both teachers (“SMART Teachertube”) and students (“Study Island”).

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Moore, Okla.

Moore, Okla.

Education quality score: 72.52
Median home price: $97,870
Population: 51,106

Tornadoes ripped up this Oklahoma City suburb in 1998, 1999, and 2003, but they couldn’t topple the bedrock education of Moore’s 30 public schools. Earlywine, Eastlake, and Fisher Elementary are all rated 10 on GreatSchools, with friendly principals, dedicated teachers, and a whirlwind of active PTOs. The high schools boast an Internet instruction program. Demographics? Moore is 4.14% Native American, and its U.S. representative — Thomas Cole of the Chicasaw Nation — is the only registered tribal member of Congress.

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Warner Robins, Ga.

Warner Robins, Ga.

Education quality score: 71.98
Median home price: $93,840
Population: 60,392

Ambitions are “sky-high” in this aeronautical city adjacent to Robins Air Force Base and the Museum of Aviation. Extremely diverse, it is more than 32% African American, and the numerous foreign workers at the base (which has 25,584 employees) have earned it the nickname “International City.” BusinessWeek ranked Warner Robins in 2009 and 2010 as the “best place in Georgia to raise a family.” The town also encourages a robust athletic tradition: A dozen alumni play for professional teams, and in 2007 the local kids crushed Tokyo 3-2 to win the Little League World Series.

Schools ranked 10 here are Quail Run Elementary and Houston County High School (“HoCo”), which maintains a huge, award-winning marching band (the Black & Silver Brigade), a champion cheerleadering team, and a Junior Air Force ROTC.

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Denison, Texas

Denison, Texas

Education quality score: 71.71
Median home price: $66,960
Population: 24,103

This historical Red River town was the residence of gambler and gunslinger Doc Holliday and the birthplace of general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Situated north of Dallas on Lake Texoma — a recreation paradise — Denison offers down-home friendliness and a top-notch school district. Newsweek ranks Denison High School in the top 4% nationally, and Layne Elementary is rated 10 on GreatSchools due to its popular principal and teachers.

Community support plays a “huge role,” says Superintendent Henry Scott, who believes “Denison has earned a reputation for graduating students who not only succeed in school but also in life.”

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