13 benefits of homeschool co-ops

Heart of the Matter has a great article written by Katie Kubesh on the benefits of homeschooling with co-ops.  She surveyed several co-ops members and here is what the received by being in a homeschool co-op:

  1. Kids enjoy the variety of resources and materials provided
  2. Parents do not have to do as much research and footwork on their own; they are able to share with other co-op parents
  3. Co-ops gives homeschooling families the opportunity to bond with other families in their city or state
  4. Co-ops keep homeschooling families on schedule
  5. Co-ops keep homeschooling families accountable for their studies
  6. The extracurricular activities are fun for both the parents and kids, including football games, craft parties, theme parties, field trips, etc.
  7. People who belong to co-ops sponsored by their church appreciate the opportunity to share their faith and bond with other parish families and the pastors, who sometimes participate also
  8. Co-ops that offer classes or unit studies give students the opportunity to learn a broader range of topics and/or to learn a subject their own parents may not be comfortable teaching, for example higher level mathematics, music, or foreign languages
  9. Students are exposed to different types of teachers
  10. Students are held accountable by someone other than their parents
  11. Parents provide each other with support and encouragement
  12. Students have the opportunity to interact with kids of all ages, not just their grade or age level
  13. People who belong to co-ops have a wide selection of experiences. Some belong to large co-ops that include over 200 families. Larger co-ops are able to teach many classes (one offers 80 different classes from preschool through high school with subjects ranging from science, math, history, art, music, foreign languages, drama, and public speaking) and sponsor many field trips and other activities. Some larger co-ops even offer courses that students earn college credits for.

Isn’t that a great list?  I especially like # 9, 10 & 11  because those are the main benefoits I recieve form my homeschool co-op.

Katie goes on to explain the benefits or large and small co-ops.  Sometimes small co-ops grow into large co-ops and the leaders find themselves managing larger groups of people, in a larger space and handling more money. This website
has a lot of tools to help homeschool leaders including articles, ebooks and audios. My book Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out can also help a homeschool co-op leader run a successful co-op, whether small, medium or large, without burning out!

Carol Topp, CPA

Economy drives more parents to homeschool

A homeschool co-op in South Carolina, has grown to 345 students from a small home-based study group!  Wow!

It is a great story and pretty familiar to me. I have heard of a lot of growth in homeschool co-ops lately.  My own homeschool co-op had a waiting list of 25 families this year. We couldn’t accommodate them all, so we helped them start a new co-op. I gave them a copy of  Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out and my ebook Money Management for Homeschool Organizations. They are now going strong with 28 families their first year!

From the Greenville (SC) News online:

Upstate Homeschool Co-op sees increase in students

With 345 students enrolled this school year, the Upstate Homeschool Co-op has seen its numbers swell dramatically since it first began as a small study group in Suzanne Brown’s Taylors home for her three oldest children.

Now, the co-op, which meets twice a week at Taylors First Baptist Church and offers enrichment and academic classes to students 4K-12, is seeing longer waiting lists and has doubled its high school courses to meet a growing demand as the economic recession continues to tighten household finances and more parents become dissatisfied with public school education.

I bet they are a blessing to many homeschool families, but their leaders may also suffer from growing pains!  I emailed their director, Suzanne Brown to tell her about HomeschoolCPA, its Leader Tools and my newly launched  ebooks and audios. She may need some help to manage a group of that size! You might too!

Carol Topp, CPA

Handling funds for big events like a senior formal

Hi Carol,
I’m the Treasurer for our local Home School Co-op and we are in the process of implementing some policy and procedures. My question is: What would be an effective policy for the handling of funds received by the various age-level activity coordinators?
Some activities are free or have a very small fee, while others are big events with tickets being sold and expenses incurred (High School Formal)..  Should there be a set amount that does not need to flow through the checking account and the coordinator be responsible for the collection of fees and the disbursement of funds, or should all monies flow through the checking account and expenses paid by the Treasurer?
Thank you,
Terri K
Terri,

Excellent question!

In general, I recommend that all activities under your co-op flow through your organization’s checking account. It might make more work for the treasurer, but it provides accountability and oversight of the program that will bear your name.

That being said, I am treasurer of a separate graduation ceremony fund for my homeschool group.  We (the parents of the graduates) set up a separate checking account just for the graduation ceremony.  I believe it was so that only the parents with graduates were funding the graduation, not the entire student body/homeschool group.  We have to stay on budget because there is no “slush fund” from the larger group to fall back on if we overspend.

There is no set amount to help you make a determination.  I would base my decision on the nature of the activity.  If it is recurring (like our graduation ceremony) then perhaps a separate account could be set up; if it is only a one-time event like a field trip, then keeping income and expenses part of the larger group’s system would make sense. Also consider the fiscal responsibility of the leaders of your separate activity.  If no one cares to handle the money in a responsible manner, then don’t let them open a separate account.

I hope that helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

IRS Intimidates Homeschool Group

I have helped several homeschool groups obtain tax exempt status with a 100% successful track record (no one has ever been denied by the IRS). One homeschool group even received their tax exempt status letter from the IRS in only three weeks!  That’s amazingly fast for the IRS; it typically takes 3 months!

But recently a homeschool group in Texas e-mailed me for help. They had applied for tax exempt status as a 501c3 educational organization.  I did not prepare their application, but looked over their website and they appeared to be similar to hundreds of homeschool organizations across the US. But the IRS was going to deny their application, keep their $750 application fee, bar them from applying again and claimed to be building a file to be used against other organizations like them seeking tax exempt status!

This was horrible and could have had a huge negative impact on homeschool co-ops and support groups across the US.  I recommended they speak to the attorneys at Homeschool Legal Advantage. There is a time and a place to hire a lawyer and this was it!

Homeschool Legal Advantage recently e-mailed this update

Homeschool Legal Advantage was recently contacted by an organization in Texas encountering difficulty and intimidation from the Internal Revenue Service.  The organization sought to receive tax-exempt status from the IRS under section 501(c)(3).  The IRS agent told the group it did not qualify and the agent was compiling research and examples to use to deny other homeschool groups in the future.

One of HLA’s attorneys got involved and discerned part of the problem was the organization’s use of the term “co-op.”  This term has an entirely different meaning for tax purposes than it does for homeschoolers.  Our attorney suggested to the group’s director that she revise the groups IRS tax exempt application to indicate they were applying as a club under IRS regulation 501(c)(7), with the 501(c)(3) designation of a co-op as an alternate.

The group can qualify as a tax exempt 501(c)(7) club because it is organized and operated for pleasure, recreation, and non-profitable purposes.  Membership is limited to families who are actively engaged in home education, and no part of the group’s net earnings inure to the benefit of any private shareholder.  All of its activities are available to all of its members and all members pay the same dues.

The group’s director faxed the renewed request for exemption to the IRS agent.  A few days later, the tax exemption letter showed up in the mail.  This is a victory for this homeschooling group!

As you can read they were a great help to this homeschool organization and resolved the matter quickly with the IRS.

The article mentioned the difference between 501c3 and 501c7 status and you may find that  a bit confusing. Additionally, the groups use of the word ‘co-op’ confused the IRS as to their purpose. What is right for your homeschool organization? How should you present your group to the IRS when applying for tax exempt status?

Feel free to email me to arrange a private consultation via telephone.  Each group is unique and an individual consultation will be very helpful

Carol Topp, CPA

P.S. I was so pleased to meet the attorneys with Homeschool Legal Advantage at the Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati in 2009. They were so helpful in desiring to work with homeschool organizations as well as individual families.

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.

Sincerely,

G.A.

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

Debi,

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