Paying teachers in a homeschool co-op is a sticky situation!

Amy asks a common question: paying teachers at a homeschool co-op

For the past several years, our group has spent more (thousands more) than we have charged our members. We’re not technically “in the red” because of more prosperous years in the past. The reason   we are spending so much money is that over 90% of our income goes to paying our parent-teachers ($15-$20/hour)! The rest of the money goes toward classroom supplies. I am sure that most parents are unaware of how the finances of this group are managed.

Have you heard of groups paying their teacher/parents? What do I need to understand about the various homeschool support and cooperative group structures that I don’t currently comprehend?  Help!
-Amy

Amy,

Your situation sounds very familiar to me. I too was treasurer of my 40 family co-op and found that 75% of our budget was going to pay four paid teachers. The other 20 teachers were volunteer parents, myself included. Not all the families were using a paid teacher, but all were chipping in to pay for them. We also were finding that people were offering to teach because they thought they could get paid. We were losing our cooperative spirit. I knew something needed to change.

About the same time I was helping another homeschool group with some independent contractor/employee issues with the IRS. I wrote about it on my blog. You can read about it here:

Is your homeschool group’s hired teacher really an employee?

Update on Independent Contractors.

We decided to follow IRS guidelines and have the parents pay the teachers directly, like you would pay a piano teacher. The co-op was no longer paying the teachers.

I did some number crunching and found that we could lower our co-op fee from $150/family/semester to $75/family/semester. In addition we offered a $50 discount for teaching a class.

What happened was amazing! Wonderful, talented homeschooling mothers volunteered to teach a class! We had more volunteers than we could accommodate. REALLY! If a mother volunteers to teach a class she only pays $25/semester for her family to attend 3 hours of classes at our co-op. If her child attends one of our paid classes (there are only 3, guitar, art and Spanish) then she pays the teacher directly. For example, I pay $65/semester for my daughter to take an art class. I think the teacher is worth it.

This got us out of the sticky employee/IC situation with the IRS. I’m writing fewer checks. It made my job as treasurer a lot easier and no 1099-MISC forms at the end of the year. No one complained. The spirit of cooperation has returned. YEAH!  I’ll also add that we let the volunteers decide what they wish to teach. If we cannot find a Spanish volunteer, no Spanish class is offered. If enough parents want Spanish we may see if a teacher can come to the co-op. We give her a room and she collects her fees from the parents directly.

My new book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization can help homeschool leaders understand the correct way to pay workers and volunteers in your homeschool group !

Carol Topp, CPA


payingworkerscoveroutlined

Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization-2nd edition

$9.95 paperback
130 pages
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978-0-9909579-3-5

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Is your homeschool co-op’s hired teacher really an employee?

A homeschool nonprofit I work with called me quite frantic.  They had received a letter form the IRS.  It seems that a former teacher of one of their classes  was asking for an examination of her status as an independent contractor (using IRS Form SS-8).  She thought that she should be classified as an employee of this homeschool nonprofit.  If the IRS agrees with this worker, the homeschool organization may have to pay back taxes (Social Security and Medicare) and perhaps penalties.

Fortunately this homeschool group did many things right:

1. They had all their paid teachers sign a Independent Contractor Agreement.
2. They did not control the content of the class, nor dictate to the teacher what curriculum she must use.
3. They offered no benefits to teachers.
4. They did not train their teachers.

But these are only a few of the factors to address in making a worker determination.

How about your homeschool group?  Would you pass an IRS examination?

Do your hired teachers sign an Independent Contractor agreement?

Do you avoid controlling their work as you might an employee?

Here’s an RS brochure regarding employee or independent contractor status (IRS Pub 1779).

 

My new book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization explains in detail how to determine of your worker is an employee or an Independent Contractor.

You may want to have a private consultation to discuss your unique situation. I offer a Worker Classification Determination consultation to put your mind at ease.

Carol Topp, CPA


payingworkerscoveroutlined

Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization-2nd edition

$9.95 paperback
130 pages
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978-0-9909579-3-5

BuyPaperbackButton

Save

New article on homeschool support groups and the IRS

Mounting bills Project 365(2) Day 142
Creative Commons License photo credit: Keith Williamson

I just uploaded a new article onto my Leader Tools/Articles page

Are support groups automatically tax exempt?

It discusses the difference between homeschool co-ops and support groups in the eyes of the IRS and the benefits of being a support group!

Here’s what one homeschool leader said when I shared this article:

The path I believe we will go down is to become a  Non Profit Corporation and then (be a) 501(c)7.  You provide a great and much needed service to homeschooler support groups and co-ops.  I wish our previous board knew about you and your web site.  I certainly will be spreading the word.

Thanks again.  I hope I get to meet you in person some day.

Jeff

If you haven’t read the articles on my Leader Tools page in a while, why not print some out and share them with your board?

Helping you lead your homeschool group,

Carol Topp, CPA

Compare 501(c)(3) Charity to 501(c)(7) Social Club

The IRS offers more than a dozen different classifications of tax exempt status.  The most popular by far with 80% of the total is the 501(c)(3) “Qualified charity status.”

Many homeschool organizations may qualify to be 501(c)(3) qualified charities with an educational purpose or 501(c)(7) Social Clubs with a social or recreational purpose.

Here’s a comparison of 501(c)(3) “qualified charity” status and 501(c)(7) Social Club.

In general, homeschool co-ops fall under 501(c)(3) “qualified charity” because they have an educational purpose, while homeschool support groups fall under 501(c)(7) Social Club.

501(c)(3) Qualified Charity 501(c)(7) Social Club
Purpose Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Pleasure, recreation, social activities
Examples churches, charities, private schools, homeschool programs with an educational or religious purpose Fraternities, sororities, country clubs, hobby clubs, homeschool support groups
Requirements No private inurement allowed. Upon dissolution all assets must be distributed to another 501(c)(3) organization. Personal contact, fellowship and co-mingling of members. No private inurement allowed.
Activities Can hold programs, sell services and products as part of their exempt purpose. Can provide meals or services only to members in connection with club activities
Tax deductible donations allowed Yes No
Tax exempt (no taxes on profits) Exempt from federal income tax unless the organization has unrelated business income Exempt from federal income tax on income derived from members; other income taxed
Source of Income Membership fees, fees for services, donations, fund raisers, program fees Primarily (65% or more) of the income must come from the membership
Membership Serving the public or the “public good” (i.e. the education of children is a public good) Limited membership and consistent with the purpose of the club
IRS Application Required? Yes, if gross revenues over $5,000/year. File Form 1023 or 1023-EZ No. The IRS does not require 501(c)(7) organizations to file an application. They can “self-proclaim” tax exempt status.
Annual IRS Reporting Form 990-N, Form 990-EZ or Form 990 Form 990-N, Form 990-EZ or Form 990
Legislative Lobbying permitted? Insubstantial lobbying allowed (less than 20% of total expenses). No endorsement of a candidate. No limit on legislative activity as long as it furthers the exempt purpose

IRS and Your Homeschool Org cover

Need more help understanding your tax exempt status?

My book, The IRS and your Homeschool Organization is a good place to start.

If you have specific question about your homeschool program, we can arrange a phone consultation.

I hope that helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

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Are Homeschool Support Groups Automatically Tax Exempt?

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I help homeschool groups file for tax exempt status with the IRS.

Most of them are homeschool co-ops and want 501(c)(3) status as a “qualified charity” because they have an educational purpose and desire tax deductible donations, tax -free profits and sometimes other perks that come with 501(c)(3) status.

But there is another type of tax exempt status that may apply to homeschool support groups: 501(3)(7) Social Club.

Here’s what it takes to be classified as a 501(c)(7) Social Club:

1. Purpose is for pleasure, social or recreation. A nonprofit motive and no part of the net earnings may inure to the benefit of any person having a personal and private interest in the activities of the organization

There must be an established membership of individuals, personal contacts and fellowship. A commingling of the members must play a  major role in the life of the organization.

Common examples include  college fraternities or sororities, country clubs, garden clubs, hobby clubs, etc.

2. Limited membership: membership is limited and consistent with the character of the club

3. Supported by membership fees. In general, your club should be supported solely by membership fees, dues, and assessments. A section 501(c)(7) organization can receive up to 35% of its gross receipts from sources outside of its membership without losing its tax-exempt status. For example, up to 35% of your total revenues can come from fund raising.

4. Business activities. If your club will engage in business, such as selling products or services, it generally will be denied exemption. However, your organization can provide meals, refreshments, or services related to its exempt purposes only to its own members or their dependents or guests.

5. Tax treatment of donations. Donations to social clubs are not deductible as charitable contributions on the donor’s federal income tax return.

Sources:
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/rr58-589.pdf
http://www.irs.gov/publications/p557/ch04.html#en_US_2010_publink1000200325
http://www.irs.gov/irm/part7/irm_07-025-007.html

These criteria fit a homeschool support group. The members are limited to homeschool parents (or those interested in homeschooling), meet for social reasons, are supported by membership fees (and maybe a little bit of fund raisers), do not sell products or services and do not collect tax deductible donations.

So most homeschool support groups can be considered 501(c)(7) Social Clubs.

Most homeschool co-ops do not fit this description because they sell services (classes) and have an educational purpose, not a social or recreational purpose. They may qualify for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status as an educational organization.

Confused about whether your organization is a 501(c)(3) “qualified charity” or 501(c)(7) Social Club?

This chart may help: Compare 501c3 to_501c7

Here’s the good news: If your organization fits the bill to be a 501(c)(7) Social Club, you do not have to file the IRS application (Form 1023 or 1024) like 501(c)(3) organizations must. 501(c)(7)s  are allowed to “self-proclaim” their tax exempt status.

Here’s the bad news: The IRS requires all tax exempt organizations for file an annual information return , Form 990/990EZ or 990N.  Failure to file the Form 990/990EZ/990N for 3 consecutive years means your tax exempt status is automatically revoked. Need help getting your tax exempt status reinstated? I can help.

Carol Topp, CPA

Ever tried team teaching in your co-op?

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Have you ever tried team teaching in your homeschool co-op?  Most homeschool parents are pretty independent, or may have a Lone Ranger mindset and may never consider team teaching.

But you may be missing out on something good.

Elain from The Community Co-op blog shares how well team teaching worked for her.

Team Teaching Saves the Day!

When the founders of co-op got together and got serious about starting this not for profit organization, we asked ourselves, “How can parents lead quality, consistent classes?”

After all, it’s one thing to homeschool your own children, quite another to plan an entire semester, and lead a class of 12 or more children!

Some of us had prior teaching experience in some form or another, one teaching in a school, another teaching adults in continuing education — but most parents coming in as volunteers wouldn’t have that.

Lori had the idea of Team Teaching. The idea is that two parents are the Leads of the class and lead as, well, a team. The two leads plan the class together and teach together. If one person is having a hard time with a project, or an explanation, the other team member is there to step in and help out.

Another part of the team work is ongoing debriefing, checking in, how’s it going? How did I do today? Was that clear? Did the class flow well today? Do we have the right number of stations set up?

Initially, I was hesitant about this team teaching thing. Bit of a Lone Ranger type. In our first year of co-op, I didn’t have a co-lead, it just worked out that way, there didn’t happen to be someone available.

This year, I do, and it’s great! No more Lone Ranger for me. My co-leader and I got together to plan our class, Studio Art. She had a wonderful idea that I never would have had — why not have as our organizing theme, the history of art? You know, the entire history of art, starting with the cave paintings?

One semester in to the plan, it’s going great. The class this year is larger than last year, but since we have this teaching team in place, class actually feels easier.

After the Winter Break, we’ll start in on the Middle Ages!

Thanks, Elain, for sharing your story! Sounds as if team teaching is Co-operation at its best!

Carol Topp, CPA

Overcome Common Co-op Problems

My guest blogger today is homeschool leader, Caren Joye. She shares a great article

How We Overcome Common Co-op Problems

Truly, there can be some negative aspects to homeschool co-ops, and we want to avoid or prevent as many problems at Academy Days as we can. As a Christian co-op, we try to keep our focus on what the Lord wants for our children. We are also respectful of the fact that our families are homeschoolers first and foremost. Our goal is to go along side the parent and enrich what they already do at home.

Here are specific ways we try to prevent the most common co-op complaints.

picgensciToo much like school
Co-op is not a school! The primary teacher is always the child’s parent, not the co-op teacher. Unlike some local co-ops, we do not administer tests nor assign grades. Our weekly classes are spent on discussions, debates, simulations, re-enactments, experiments, and hands-on activities that enrich studies at home, such as the science experiment pictured at left. Since co-op meets only once a week, the majority of coursework is completed at home, so really only the parent knows the full extent of her child’s knowledge in a subject. It stands to reason that the parent, then, would be the one to assign grades.

Too much homework
Only high school classes and a few junior high classes actually have homework. All kindergarten and elementary classes are enrichment only. Co-op is supposed to lift our burdens, not increase them, so co-op is all about projects, experiments, educational games, simulations, re-enactments, learning activities, discussion, debate, arts and crafts that can be completed during class time. We do not want homeschooling families stressing over homework in addition to regular curriculum studies at home. Plus, only the parents know how their child learns, and that child should be free to learn that way without pressure to conform to the majority. As a result, the responsibility for homework is placed on teenagers, who should be learning how to manage their time anyway, particularly in preparation for college. Even then, because some families use a different curriculum at home, we try to be reasonable regarding homework even for high schoolers.

Too many illnesses
We do not want co-op to be a source of illness for any family. A standing rule is to stay home if you or your children are sick or even just recovering from an illness. We have a substitutes list and a list of illnesses, and we expect members to be symptom-free for 24 hours before they return to co-op. As a result, we do have a lot of absences, but we much prefer filling in for an absent parent than catching a cold from a sick child or teacher.

pixcwToo many unsupervised children
Co-op is not a drop-off service, so we do not have children running around without parental supervision. If your child is at co-op, then you must be, too. As a small Christian co-op, we lovingly correct and encourage our children and try to channel their energies into positive directions. Plus, we intentionally keep classes small to prevent a “crowd-control” situation during class time. Except for PE, classes are limited to 12 students, although the number usually ranges between 4 and 10, as pictured in this 5th-6th grade creative writing class.

Too much work for parents

Many hands make light work! You do not have to teach, but all parents at least commit to helping in a class. Everyone gets one break period in the four-period day, and usually two. Additionally, most classes have two teachers, so teaching each week does not fall on just one person. Furthermore, teaching itself is limited to lessons and activities during class time; teachers do not have to correct homework nor prepare and grade tests. Also, every class has at least one parent helper, if not two, for additional help.

Too expensive
We aim to keep co-op affordable. Unlike other local co-ops, no one at co-op gets paid, and all our workers are volunteers with a degree, special knowledge or passion for the subjects they teach. Class fees, which range from $2 to $15 for the entire 14 weeks, pay for materials only. Because many of us homeschool on a budget, we diligently search for the cheapest copier in town and research the Internet for the lowest prices on books, so we can pass those savings on to our members.

Too disorganized
A group cannot function efficiently without some organization. Written procedures help our group rely on a plan instead of on quick decisions made in a crisis. Plus, guidelines ensure our safety and help us manage the use of the facilities that the Lord has provided for us. We know that parents and children are most comfortable in an environment where they know where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to do in any given situation. We try to provide that structure while at the same time maintain flexibility. As a result, our co-op runs very smoothly; indeed, many of our members who used to participate in other co-ops have stated that our co-op runs more smoothly and comfortably than any others they have attended.

Too much conflict
Personality conflicts and misunderstandings may be inevitable in a group environment, but we aim to manage them by proactive means. To prevent becoming a “mega co-op,” we limit membership by keeping classes small. In addition, we have written procedures which help everyone understand expectations. Also, we advocate the resolution method commanded by God, that of peacemaking – which includes overlooking an offense, reconciliation, negotiation, mediation, arbitration and accountability.

We started Academy Days co-op in fall 2006, so we are still a young co-op. Each semester we address a new issue and smooth out fewer and fewer kinks. As we do individually in our own lives, we are working on perfection!

About the Author:
Carren W. Joye is the author of Homeschooling More Than One Child: A Practical Guide for Families (ISBN 0-595-34259-0), Alabama State History Curriculum for grades K-9, and A Stay-at-Home Mom’s Complete Guide to Playgroups (ISBN 0-595-14684-8). A homeschooling mom of four children, she has founded four successful playgroups, a homeschool support group, homeschool covering, and homeschool co-op. For more information on her books and state history curriculum, visit her web site at www.carrenjoye.com.

Co-ops help with socialization of homeschooled children

Here’s a great article about how a homeschool co-op helped one family with their concerns about socialization.

Breaking the homeschool barrier

Cheryl Littlejohn and her husband Tom have been homeschooling for five years. Before that, Derek and Carrie were attending a local private Christian school affiliated with their former church. When changes in the church and school made them uncomfortable with the children’s educational situation, they began looking into homeschool programs.

The parents had two major questions: Would homeschooling be an effective choice in their education, and would they miss out socially? In the end, they decided to give it a try. “When considering our educational choices, in light of the changes in our lives, we felt that homeschooling was best for our family,” Cheryl said.

The socialization her kids get at the co-op is the other key to the Littlejohns’ homeschool success.

Five years later, all worries Tom and Cheryl had about their children’s socialization and academic progress have been dismissed. Their resources are plentiful, their schedule is flexible, and they can customize the curriculum. They plan field trips with other homeschooled families — an IMAX movie about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and a trip to a feline rescue center in Clay County are examples — and vacations rely only on Tom’s work schedule, which allows them to do things like take an extended off-peak trip to Europe.

And she’s not worried about her kids’ future any more than any other concerned parent. The education they’re getting is sound — Derek is the president of the local branch of the National Honors Society for Homeschoolers — they’re well-developed socially, and they’re tuned into college preparation. Five years ago, she was afraid of the stigma, but the accessibility of the SAT and ACT levels the playing field. Even if parents did inflate their kids’ grades, the proof would be in the pudding when it came to standardized testing.

“Our decision to homeschool is in no way a statement on other people choosing a different course for their kids,” Cheryl said. “We have friends whose kids have done quite well in the public school system, and others who have been successful in the private Christian realm. At this time, we feel that homeschooling is best for our family.”

Read the entire article here

Carol Topp, CPA

Can a small group be an IRS qualified charity?

In the past week, I have received two emails from homeschool leaders in MD and CA with  a surprisingly similar situations.

In both groups, a small number of homeschooling families were  joining together to hire a single teacher to teach their children once or twice a week. Both groups were very small, only seven families total, but they were paying each instructor quite a bit of money-$11,000 annually in one case and $17,000 in the other. This meant that they exceeded the IRS threshold of $5,000 annual gross revenue and needed to consider filing for 501c3 tax exempt status.

They had several concerns such as a contract with the teacher, how should the teacher be paid and could the group qualify for 501c3 tax exempt status as an educational organization?

Here were some of their questions:

I found your website and found it to be most interesting and helpful to homeschool co-ops.  I would like to schedule a personal consultation with you.  I am part of a homeschool group that informally hired a teacher to teach certain classes in past years, but this coming year the teacher wants a contract.
Rosemary in MD


I saw your website and had some general questions for you.  Appreciate your ministry to homeschoolers. We are trying to decide whether our group should be a sole proprietorship owned by person or try to establish a nonprofit. What would be the pros and cons of each? What if we can’t afford to file for tax exemption at this time?  What are our choices if our gross receipts are around $11K/year?
Teri in CA

There are several options for homeschool organizations who are trying to decide how to structure themselves. I advised the leader from CA to read this article:

When to become a 501c3?

I offered a private phone consultation and discussed the concerns and options with the leader from MD. I explained that I doubted the IRS would grant 501c3 “qualified charity” status to a group with only seven families. An IRS qualified charity is supposed to serve a public good, not the needs of only seven families.

Instead of pursuing 501c3 tax exempt status, we discussed that the hired teacher is really running a for-profit business (a sole proprietorship) with seven families as her customers. I shared with her several sample contractor agreements the teacher could use in her business.

There is a sample contractor agreement available in my ebooks Money Management in a Homeschool Organization and Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization.

Thank you again for the consultation.  It answered a lot of questions for me, and I appreciate your support. Thank you also for the contractor agreements – I have been reading through them.
Rosemary in MD

If you have a unique homeschooling situation and would like to schedule a private consultation with me, please send me an email at Carol@HomeschoolCPA.com. Tell me a little about your group and we can arrange a mutually convenient time to talk.

Carol Topp, CPA

Homeschool co-op teachers influence the future!

EmilyToppSo many wonderful people have influenced my daughters by teaching at our homeschool co-op.  I will be forever grateful to them!

When Amy Puetz announced she was looking for stories form homeschool graduates, I asked my daughter, Emily, to write something.

Here is an excerpt:

When I was in fifth grade, my mother enrolled me in a homeschool co-op because she thought it would be “good for me.” Unfortunately, I was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of trying something new and facing “real teachers.” In hindsight, however, I can see that the co-op was one of the greatest blessings of those years of homeschooling!

The volunteer instructor for my public speaking class was a veteran homeschool mother, Mrs. Hill. In her class, I learned how to follow a syllabus, complete weekly assignments, and learn from a teacher other than my own parents. I also benefited from Mrs. Hill’s patient encouragement and instruction, as she shared her passion for communicating for Christ with my class. Because each of my co-op teachers led a class in her area of expertise, their passion developed my love for learning beyond what I would have experienced working with just my mom and sister at home. Although I did not particularly enjoy speaking in public, I appreciated Mrs. Hill’s encouragement. Specifically, her praise—from a source other than my parents—reinforced my self confidence and motivated me to work diligently even in my least favorite subjects. On the car ride home from co-op, I would frequently say to my mother, “Guess what I learned from Mrs. Hill today!” The co-op provided a unique opportunity to learn from other adults, without sacrificing the integral element of family from my homeschool experience.

Read my daughter’s thank you to co-op teachers in Thank You! 20 Homeschool Grads Tip Their Hats to Homeschooling Parents Compiled by Amy Puetz

Amy is offering this as a fee ebook at her website.

If you as a homeschool parent, leader or co-op teacher need a bit of encouragement, read Amy’s Thank You book. It will be the “shot in the arm” you need!

Thank You! 20 Homeschool Grads Tip Their Hats to Homeschooling Parents