Homeschool Co-op Featured in the News

I love it when a local newspaper reports about the success of homeschool co-ops.

Here’s  a great story from the Temple (Texas) Daily Telegraph

An environment for sharing: Home school co-op helps students and instructors

by Cristina Waits | General Assignments Writer
Published: October 20, 2009
Elizabeth Castleberry, a 14-year-old home-schooled ninth-grader, observes sugar burn Monday during a Helping Hands Homeschool Co-op chemistry lab at Belton Church of Christ. Clint Bittenbinder/Telegram
Ian Wardlow, right, a 16-year-old home-schooled 10th-grader, pours baking soda Monday into a test tube held by teacher Rebecca Stryker during a chemistry lab experiment at Helping Hands Homeschool Co-op at Belton Church of Christ. Clint Bittenbinder/Telegram

BELTON – Longtime home-schooler Elizabeth Castleberry says going to a classroom has its perks.

While she enjoys staying home for most of her studies, the 14-year-old says chemistry is a course that would be hard to replicate at home. So when her family decided to join Helping Hands Homeschool Co-op this year, it meant Castleberry could get hands-on experience with lab equipment as well as the chance to work with an experienced high school science teacher.

Both are opportunities she says she’s enjoying.

“The whole hands-on experience makes it easier to understand chemistry,” said Castleberry, who conducted five experiments with teachers and classmates Monday. “Co-op gives you more of a class experience. And it’s also a lot of fun to get out of the house.”

Though many students are also involved with youth sports, music lessons and clubs, the tuition-free co-op offers classroom experience that’s hard for home-schoolers to get otherwise. With courses ranging from core academic to special interest enrichment, the co-op is made up of 185 students in kindergarten through 12th grade who meet Mondays at Belton Church of Christ for 10 weeks each semester.

Like at home, parents teach classes in a wide variety of subjects such as astronomy, Latin, tae kwon do and sewing. But unlike home, every parent doesn’t have to teach every class. And children have the opportunity to learn from teachers who are not part of their families.

“My children have benefited from the expertise of others,” said Colleen Stafford, volunteer co-op administrator. “It takes a load off me. I don’t have to teach (my children) the lesson. I just oversee them carrying out their assignments. They’re getting much more than just me teaching them at home.”

Read the rest of the story here

I like the emphasis on learning from each other.  That;s the siprit of a true co-op! Did you catch the “tuition-free” description!  Wow  No wonder they have 185 students involved!

You too can start and run a successful homeschool co-op.  Start by ordering my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out here.

Carol Topp, CPA

Homeschooling Other People’s Children. Is It Legal?

Dear Ms. Topp,

I found your website while trying to research information on hiring a private homeschool instructor for a friend of mine.  She’s a single parent who adopted a girl from Russia.  She’s having a little bit of a problem in public school and I thought it might be a good idea to homeschool her for her middle school years at least to focus on her language skills and other abilities.

Can you point me to some information on whether she can even hire a homeschool instructor to work with her daughter?  I know this may sound crazy, but I keep thinking what her daughter needs is a governess.  Or maybe I’ve read too many Bronte and Austen novels.  Any help you could provide would be most appreciated.



Dear G.A.

I think you are absolutely correct in using the term governess to describe your friend’s situation.
I have a blog post titled “Is It a Homeschool Co-op or Mary Poppins?” that addresses a similar question.

I have been asked questions similar to yours several times, so it not an unusual idea. It is quite an old idea as you references (Jane Eyre is a favorite!)

I would direct your friend to do research in three areas:
1. Her state homeschool laws and see if a non-parent is allowed to instruct a child. I imagine it is allowed, she may just have to report the governess’ name and subjects covered on an annual basis (we do here in Ohio, for example)
2. Employer laws in your state.  A local CPA would be helpful here. The governess may be considered a household employee and that has easier tax reporting requirements (like annually, not quarterly filing).  Employer taxes (Social Security and Medicare) will need to be paid.
3. Perhaps consult with an attorney to draw up an employment agreement.  Perhaps a professional tutor or nanny/au pair service in your area may have sample agreements to use as a guide.

I hope that helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

Pros and Cons of Homeschool Co-ops

Homeschool blogger, Spunky Homeschool, asks about the disadvantages of belonging to a homeschool co-ops and her concerns.

The Pros and Cons of Co-ops

Are you in a homeschool co-op? I joined one last year so my son, a high school junior, could take a Physics class; we enjoyed the experience and signed up again this year. There are quite a few co-ops in our area and they appear to be a growing trend among homeschoolers around the nation.

But I do sometimes wonder what the co-op trend means for the future of homeschooling. Will the government jump in and require those that teach other families to be credentialed; or God forbid, will the teachers union step in and demand that mothers be unionized. A few years ago, I would have laughed at that thought. But that is exactly was is a occurring with in-home health care workers in Illinois and mothers who do in-home daycare in Michigan. Right now this seems to be happening only with those workers who receive state aid, something our co-op does not do. But some co-ops may have members who do receive some sort of state assistance for their children and that’s where things could start to get muddy.

Like Spunky, I know the blessings of belonging to a homeschool co-op and the disadvantages. When I wrote my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out, a friend noticed that my chapter on the disadvantages was longer than the advantages of a homeschool co-op! Ha, ha!

I just believe that homeschool co-ops are like marriages, it’s best if you go in with your eyes wide open!

I work hard to help homeschool leaders run the best co-ops that they can and be a blessing to their members, but not burn out anyone-leader or member!

Read through some comments or post your own here at Spunky’s site.

Carol Topp, CPA

Homeschool Leader, Do You Need Help?

I know that being a homeschool leader is not an easy job.  You have taken on extra responsibilities in addition to homeschooling your own children. But help is on the way!

I am so pleased to announce several ebooks and audios for homeschool leaders are now available

A 39 page ebook covering money management for small, medium and large sized groups. Sample forms and examples of financial statements in clear English are provided. Also covered are topics such as using Quickbooks, collecting fees, creating a budget, insurance, and hiring paid teachers. All written specifically for homeschool groups.
Price: $10.00 (immediate download as a pdf file)
Read more and order here

A 51 page ebook explaining the pros and cons of tax exempt 501c3 status. Is it needed? Is it worth it? Also covered are non profit incorporation, the application process, and how to maintain tax exempt status. Written specifically for homeschool groups.
Price: $10.00 (immediate download as a pdf file)
Read more and order here

A  62 page ebook containing some of the most frequently asked questions from homeschool leaders on the IRS, nonprofit and tax exempt status, boards, conflict, money, fund raising, volunteers, paying workers and insurance.
Price $8.00 (immediate download as a pdf file)
Read more and order here

A 20 page ebook that covers paying workers as employees or independent contractors.  Includes sample forms, tips and advice to help you pay workers in accordance with the IRS laws. Written specifically for homeschool organizations.
Price: $7.00 (immediate download as a pdf file)
Read more and order here

Are You Ready? Tax Exempt 501c3 Status for Homeschool Organizations

audio download
An hour-long audio that explains the advantages of 501c3 tax exempt status for your homeschool group. What’s involved, what will it cost and is it worth it? All specifically for homeschool groups.
Price: $7.00 includes a file of the presentation slides
Read more and order here

An hour-long audio that explains the importance of boards, budgets and bylaws in a homeschool organization. Get your group set up correctly and running smoothly. All specifically for homeschool groups.
Price: $7.00 includes a file of the presentation slides
Read more and order here

I hope you find these ebooks and audios helpful as you run your homeschool organizations.
Carol Topp, CPA

Banker wants IRS letter to open a checking account

Hi Carol,

At your leader meeting a few months back, you had recommended that all of our groups have the same EIN number.  When a group leader tried to change their account to one using our EIN, the banker wanted a copy of our original letter from the IRS.   I told the banker that we have never had to provide anything except a letter from me (one who obtained the number in 2002) and the EIN number which we provided.  He said it was just a personal preference of his.  Have you heard of this?  I am uncomfortable doing more than what is usually required and providing personal paperwork to him.  Am I being unreasonable, or do you think it is okay to provide it?   Thanks for any insight.

Debi in Indiana


I’m with you-the banker should not need an IRS determination letter (I assume that’s what’s he is talking about) to open a nonprofit checking account. Some nonprofits never get a tax exempt determination letter from the IRS because they self declare their tax exempt status and never formally apply. (Note: only churches, social clubs and charities with less than $5,000 in annual income can self declare tax exempt status; all other organizations must apply for tax exempt status).

Most nonprofits need a checking account before getting IRS tax exempt status because the IRS charges a fee to process a tax exempt application!

Don’t believe the banker if he says an IRS 501c3 determination letter is required to open a checking account (fortunately he said it was his personal preference).  I once had a bank teller  tell me that nonprofits couldn’t earn interest on their savings accounts because they were nonprofit!  She was greatly mistaken. Bankers don’t always know what they are talking about (outside of banking…)

Carol Topp, CPA

Debi followed up my reply with the following

I think there is some confusion on what the bank manager is asking for.

I don’t think he is asking for us to prove that we are a 501c3 non-profit as recognized by the IRS. I think that all he wants is a copy of the letter from the Department of the Treasury that assigned us the EIN number. He probably doesn’t even know the right terms for what he is asking.

Yes, I think you are correct.  The banker may have only been asking for the EIN paper from the IRS, not a 501c3 determination letter.
I guess he’s being careful about getting the EIN correctly from the IRS letter itself.  I can’t blame him for that.

Carol Topp, CPA

More lessons from a homeschool co-op

Faye had so many good lessons she learned from her homeschool co-op, I’m splitting them into two parts. here’s more great lessons learned from someone in the trenches of a homeschool co-op.

6.  Sometimes kids won’t like the class you are teaching; some may even decide to drop out after a few weeks.  Try not to take it personally.

7.  A co-op with mixed ages provides amazing opportunities for older kids to learn how to be around, and help, younger kids.  My little guy made so many connections with the older boys; it was wonderful.  And, having the older kids play with my son was a huge help to me.  Bonus–I may have found a future babysitter!

8.  There is nothing like a good game of Twister to shake things up a bit.  Read my Twister article to learn about our fun!

9.  It may take some effort to stick with a co-op.  After all, you probably had a routine before you joined the co-op, but don’t give up.  A co-op can really liven up your weekly schedule, not to mention all the new avenues can open for your kids.

10.  The more you can help, the better the co-op will be.  If you have a few extra minutes, see if something needs to be set up, or cleaned up, or put away.  If you have an idea for a class/program/field trip, share it with the planning group. One of our co-op families held a “tie dye” day and invited everyone to their house for a day of messy, creative fun.  I will never forget the site of all those tie-dyed shirts, blowing in the breeze on the clothesline.

11.  If one idea doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to toss it or tweak it.  We had started a MathCounts program, but for some kids that just didn’t work.  So, another mom gathered some awesome math games and brought them to the co-op for the kids who were a little intimidated by MathCounts.  The result?  The math games were a HUGE hit; kids were helping to get their parents out the door on time, so they wouldn’t be late for math games!

12.  Let your kids have fun, and don’t force them to try everything.  Sometimes just being exposed to new things will pique their interest in something different, which may encourage them to give it a try.  A co-op should be educational, but it should also be enjoyable.

I completely agree with everything Faye learned, especially #10 on everyone helps and #11 on staying flexible. They are so important in a homeschool co-op and so easy to forget! Thanks for sharing your experiences Faye!HSCo-opsCover

If any of you want to learn how to start a co-op or run the co-op you belong to in a better way, order my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out.

Carol Topp, CPA

Lessons learned from a homeschool co-op

Faye, a homeschool mom and columnist for the DC, has a list of lessons she learned while being in two homeschool co-ops this year.

When we joined two homeschool co-ops last year, it completely changed our homeschooling life.  For one thing, I had to be sure not to plan anything else on co-op days, because we were already busy.  Sometimes this made scheduling field trips a little tricky, but the juggling was well worth the effort.  Another big change was that on co-op days, we all had to get up at a scheduled (earlier!) time, so that we could be out the door on time. We aren’t big morning people around here, but I think the change did us good.  And finally, it brought more friendship and support into our family and into our lives, which was perhaps the biggest blessing of all!  There were many other things that I learned, and I thought it would be fun to share a few of them:

1.  Kids who are not used to daily “school” may not always have pencils, pens, or paper.  Be sure to bring extra!

2.  No matter how hard you wish, if your co-op is exactly 18 minutes from your house, you will not be able to get there in 10 minutes.  Leave early (or at least on time).

3.  Even if you are the “teacher”, sometimes you will be late (refer to #2 for the solution to this problem)

4.  A big roll of paper and a box of crayons are indispensable for keeping little ones occupied.  The paper may come in handy for other uses (see #1).

5.  You probably already know this, but kids NEED time to run around outdoors.  If your co-op doesn’t have access to an outdoor space, try to find a way for the kids to take a walk or play some indoor games.  Getting the wiggles out is very important.

More of Fay’s lessons learned coming soon.

Meanwhile, if you would like to learn more about starting or running aHSCo-opsCover

homeschool co-op, order my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out.

Carol Topp, CPA

Is insurance needed for small homeschool groups?

Do small homeschool groups need insurance?

Often they do, especially of their host/landlord requires general liability insurance.

To help you discern your risk and need for insurance, Harvey Mechanic, an attorney that specializes in nonprofit law, lists some potential claim areas:


1. Discrimination (Age, Race, Sex)
2. Wrongful dismissal of employee
3. Mismanagement
4. Financial failure/bankruptcy
5. Poor administration resulting in losses
6. Causing the organization to incur unnecessary tax liability
7. Imprudent investments
8. Misuse of contributions
9. Conflict of interest
10. Unauthorized loans
11. Failure to obtain competitive bids
12. Unwarranted expansion
13. Failure to obtain government funding or lower interest loans
14. Misuse of government funds or grants

How many of these situations could occur in your homeschool organization? Probably some, but not all. Large nonprofits like the Red Cross or a hospital face many of these potential risks and need insurance.

In my article, “Insurance for Homeschool Groups,”  discuss the various types in insurance a homeschool group might need and how to lessen your risks to obtain a reasonably priced insurance policy.

Insurance for homeschool groups

Carol Topp, CPA

Should a co-op be a separate organization?


We have one entity (group) that works outside of our association, this is our checkbook2Co-op group. This group does take in money – I believe it’s run out of a separate bank account. I know our Co-op group has a board, and bylaws but not an EIN number, which I know is very easy to get. What are they benefits of us staying as one group? My question is: should our Co-op group run their funds separately like this?

Sandy in TX


Your co-op could be organized as under your association or as a separate group. It’s really up to you. Since they have their own separate board and bylaws, perhaps they are really operating as a separate unincorporated association already. You could be officially separate if they obtain their own Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

There might be advantages to staying as one group. There are fewer volunteers for the board positions, consolidated financial reports, and shared workload. The co-op could remain a part of your organization, but with a separate checking account and its own budget. It could be self-sustaining financially, but still part of your association. Many church-run schools operate like this, financially self-sufficient, but still under the umbrella of the church.

Carol Topp, CPA

Finding a CPA for your nonprofit

I wrote this article for Step by Step Fund Raising titled

A Good CPA is Hard to Find

by Carol Topp, CPA

Your nonprofit needs professional accounting help, but a good CPA can be hard to find. You desire someone who is knowledgeable but understandable, experienced but still affordable, and professional yet interested in your mission.

How to find a CPA to help your nonprofit:

  • Tell your staff, members and volunteers of your need and request that they ask friends and neighbors for referrals.
  • Mention your search for a CPA in your newsletter.
  • Look over your member or donor list for CPAs and  call to see if they are qualified and interested.
  • Join an on line professional network like, join some groups and post your need.
  • Call your state CPA society for referrals. lists state CPA societies at.
  • Ask other local nonprofits for their CPA’s contact information.
  • Use an on line matching service such as Accountants for the Public Interest that matches volunteer CPAs to nonprofits at.

Finding a qualified CPA is the just the beginning. You also desire a good working relationship that benefits your nonprofit more than it costs.

When you work with an accountant:

  • Be specific about the task
  • Ask for an estimate of their fee
  • Request an engagement letter that will spell out the specific tasks and estimated cost
  • Inquire if the charges can be reduced.  Some CPAs will offer a discount if you can delay work until after tax season.
  • Discuss how much of the work your staff or volunteers can do to help reduce fees.
  • Ask for lower cost alternatives. For example, a review of your financial statements may suffice instead of a full audit which is much more costly and time consuming.
  • Be prepared to ask questions, read and learn on your own

Seek out an accountant that has the ability advise you about the financial side of your nonprofit. You should feel comfortable with him or her and be free to ask questions. A good accountant is not just a bean counter; they are also a business advisor. They should explain issues and financial statements in a language that is accurate, yet understandable. If you leave a meeting with your accountant feeling confused, you should find another accountant.

Ask a potential CPA these questions:

  • How many nonprofits do you have as clients? Hopefully, the accountant has clients similar in size to your organization. Size is usually measured in staff size, number of clients served or annual revenue.
  • What is your area of specialty? Some CPAs conduct audits while others specialize in preparing the annual IRS Form 990. Select an accountant that matches your needs.
  • With whom will we be working? In medium and large accounting firms there are several layers of management.  The person doing the original interview may not the one doing the work.  Alternatively, in a small or solo firm you will probably work with only one individual.
  • May I see your biography or Curriculum Vitae  (CV)? Look for participation on church or community boards, published articles and professional memberships.
  • Can you explain to me the reporting requirements for my nonprofit? This type of question is really a test to see how well the CPA explains IRS guidelines.  Is their explanation understandable to you or do they lapse into accounting jargon?
  • Do you charge by the project or by the hour?
  • Am I free after this engagement to call you with questions?  Will I be billed for the phone call?

After their first audit, a small, but growing, nonprofit asked their CPA, “ How do we compare to other nonprofits? What can we be doing better?”  The CPA was unable to answer their questions.  He was good at number crunching, but he could not see the bigger picture and seemed unable to offer advice. The director was quite disappointed. They used the techniques mentioned here and found a qualified, helpful CPA with a reputable firm that guided them through many successful years of expansion.

Carol Topp, CPA //