The IRS Says Our Homeschool Group is a Private Foundation. Is that Correct?

I am wondering if we can get some clarification from you. I am looking through this IRS document we received after we reapplied for 501c3 tax exempt status per your direction back in January.

It says we have been determined to be a 501(c)(3) private foundation and are required to file a 990-PF.

I feel like this information is incorrect, am I right in thinking this? 

Thank you,


Oh dear. This is very unfortunate.

I guess that whoever filled out the 1023-EZ checked the box saying your homeschool group was a private foundation rather than a public charity.

Almost all homeschool organizations are public charities not private foundations.

What’s a private foundation?

Private foundations are funded by an individual, family, or a corporation, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Ford Foundation.These individuals and corporations typically make large donations to the foundation. The foundation invests the donations. The goal of the foundation is to distribute the income from their investments to charitable works like universities or medical research.

So what’s a public charity?

On the other hand public charities are funded by the general public through donations, membership fees, or activities related to their exempt function.

Most homeschool organization receive their funds from membership fees, tuition, field trip fees, and class fees. They are not private foundations.

Almost all homeschool programs are public charities.

Why does it matter?

There are several reasons why being classified as a public charity rather than a private foundation is important:

  • Private foundations must distribute their income from their investments every year or pay taxes. In addition, private foundations must pay an excise tax on net investment income.
  • The annual report for a private foundation is the complex, multi-page form called the 990-PF. It will take a CPA to help you prepare this beast of a form. But small public charities can file the IRS Form 990-N electronically every year by themselves!
  • Dissolving a private foundation involves either paying an IRS fee or distributing the funds to another established private foundation. it’s complex to dissolve a private foundation and will probably require an attorney and a CPA.
  • Private foundations must to make public their list of contributors; pubic charities do not have to make their donor list public.
  • Private foundations are highly regulated by the Tax Code and subject to a host of technical rules and restrictions that do not apply to public charities.

The cause of the mistake

Here’s a snapshot of the Form 1023-EZ application for 501c3 status where a homeschool organization tells the IRS how it receives its funding.

The homeschool program that emailed me checked the wrong box on the Form 1023-EZ and said they were a private foundation when they are not.

How to avoid this mistake

This mistake could have been avoided.

I offered my services to help this homeschool group with the Form 1023-EZ While my fee is $300, I also pointed the leaders to a $25 webinar where I go though the Form 1023-EZ line-by-line and I explain the difference between public charity and private foundation.

This homeschool group never purchased my services or even my webinar, thinking they could save time and money. 🙁

The webinar on 501c3 Application for Homeschool Nonprofits costs only $25. In addition to the 90 minute webinar, you get a copy of my ebook The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization.

How to fix the mistake

To request the IRS change the status of Ashley’s homeschool program from private foundation to public charity, it must file IRS Form 8940. The form looks easy, but it is all the supporting documents and the explanation to the IRS that are the quite complex and burdensome.

Ashley will need to give the IRS a lot more documentation including bylaws and financial statements than she did when filling the Form 1023-EZ application.

I will charge Ashley’s organization $200 to request a change to public charity with the IRS on Form 8940. The IRS fee is an additional $500.

So a $700 expense could have been avoid by paying $25 and watching my webinar!

Don’t make the same mistake!

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Bad Acting Nonprofit Board Members

I like crime novels and murder mysteries. So I was intrigued with a series of cases that the Ohio Attorney General shared regarding bad acting nonprofit board members.

Board members paying themselves for board work

Most of these cases involved board members’ breach of their fiduciary duty.

They usually paid themselves a boatload of money when the organization dissolved.
That’s a “no-no” for nonprofits with 501c3 tax exempt status. When a 501c3 dissolves the money goes to another 501c3 (including churches) not to the board members.

Two board members claimed the money they paid themselves was “a retroactive payment for service as trustees.” Ohio’s Attorney General disagreed and ordered payment of $16,380 in restitution and a $1,820 civil penalty. The board members were also ordered to not serve in any role in a charitable organization for one year.

Failing to file IRS and state reports

Another board of a nonprofit, a cheerleading gym, failed in their fiduciary duties by failing to file the annual IRS information return, Form 990, and failing to file a statement of continued existence with Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. The board members’ (a married couple) penalty was $10,000 and a 5 year ban from serving a charitable organization and can never incorporate another nonprofit.

So forgetting to file your IRS and state reports can get you in pretty serious trouble!

If you are unsure of what reports your homeschool organization should be filing I have some resources for you:

I hope I NEVER read of a homeschool organization getting penalized for breaching its fiduciary duties!

Read more about board duties.
Podcast episode on Board duties

Please talk your job as a board member seriously.

Ask a lot of questions about how the money is being handled and what reports your homeschool group should be filing each year.

My book Money Management in a Homeschool Organization is a good place to start.

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders

What’s the Difference Between Pod Schools and Homeschools?

Have you heard of pod schools? They are groups of parents who gather together to educate their children outside of their public school system. They became very popular as in-person schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the fall of 2020.

In the previous episode (#195) of the HomeschoolCPA podcast, host Carol Topp, the Homeschool CPA, discussed with guest Julie Schiffman two distinct differences between pod schools and homeschools

  • Who does the educating, the pod teacher or the parent?
  • Where does the education take place: In the pod space (a home or rented facility) or everywhere?

In today’s episode, Julie explains two more important differences between “pandemic pods” and homeschooling.

  • How is the curriculum chosen and delivered: Set by the school or chosen by the parent and customizable for the child’s needs?
  • Why? What is the motivation to educate this way: a pandemic or something deeper?

Julie Schiffman is owner of a website dedicated to helping parents transition from school to homeschooling though Virtual Homeschool Fairs

During the podcast Carol mentioned Julie’s Learning Pods Checklist and Considerations

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Should My CC Community be For-profit or Nonprofit?

I am a new director of a Classical Conversations (CC) campus in Michigan. I’m trying to weigh how to set things up. Can you offer me a recommendation on if I should set up a for profit or non- profit based on your knowledge of CC.

Also I’m at a loss of how to even approach or explain CC and the situation to a CPA who has no understanding of it. Where do I start and what are important things s/he needs to know to help me make a good decision?

– Michelle


Thank you for contacting me.

I’d venture to estimate that 90% of CC Communities are set up as for-profit businesses, sole proprietorships owned by the Director. A few larger ones with a mission focus have established boards, filed to become nonprofit corporations, and applied for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status with the IRS.

The main differences between a for-profit business and a nonprofit organization are:

  • Profit motive. Nonprofits have a purpose other than making a profit; in most homeschool groups the purpose is to educate children, which the IRS says can be a purpose for a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. By default, a for-profit business has making a profit as their motive, even if the activities are educational in nature.
  • Ownership and Control. A nonprofit is not owned by anyone; the board runs everything and decides what everyone, even you the Director, will get paid. The board can also fire you and hire another Director. The board can decide not to renew the license with CC and decide to use another curriculum. So you surrender ownership and control of the CC community to the board.
  • Tax exemption and tax deductible donations. Nonprofits who apply for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status with the IRS will be tax free on their surplus and can receive tax-deductible donations.
  • Volunteers: For profit businesses cannot use volunteers nor can they ask their paid workers to volunteer. That would be a violation of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which protects the rights of workers from unscrupulous employers. This no-volunteer-labor law puts a real crimp in the way that most CC Directors run their communities! Being formed as a nonprofit organization means you can legally (and cheaply) use volunteers!
  • Use of property-tax-exempt facilities such as churches and libraries. Most churches and libraries limit the use of their buildings to nonporift organizations, so they can avoid paying property tax. For profit bushiness such as most CC Communities should notify their church host that they are not a nonprofit homeschool group, but are a business owned by the Director.

My webinar, Create a Nonprofit for Your Homeschool Community, will be a big help is understanding the differences and how a CC Director can convert her business to be a nonporift organization.

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Pandemic Podschooling: Is It Homeschooling?

Have you heard of “pandemic pods”? They are groups of parents who gather together to teach or hire a teacher to educate 3-6 students outside of their public school system. They became very popular as in-person schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the fall of 2020.

In this episode of the HomeschoolCPA podcast, host Carol Topp, the Homeschool CPA discusses with guest Julie Schiffman four distinct differences between pod schools and homeschools.

  • Who does the educating, the pod teacher or the parent?
  • Where does the education take place: In the pod space (a home or rented facility) or everywhere?
  • How is the curriculum chosen and delivered: Set by the school or chosen by the parent and customizable for the child’s needs?
  • Why? What is the motivation to educate this way: a pandemic or something deeper?

Julie Schiffman is owner of a website dedicated to helping parents transition from school to homeschooling though Virtual Homeschool Fairs

During the podcast Carol mentioned Julie’s Learning Pods Checklist and Considerations

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Homeschool Co-op or Daycare?

I am a former homeschooler as well as a former teacher, and I am planning to offer a small homeschool co-op out of my home in Illinois this fall for 8 children (none which are mine).

I had someone ask about the need for a license to do so (through DCFS), and while I’ve looked into it extensively, I haven’t been able to find anything concrete. I just want to make sure I’m not doing anything illegal.

Your advice and suggestions are appreciated.
Thank you!

Basically I think you are asking: Is my planned group a homeschool co-op or a daycare?

I cannot answer that for you. It’s a legal question and I’m not an attorney. I’m an accountant and I have no desire to become an expert on daycare licensing laws. 🙂

But I have some criteria that makes a group a homeschool co-op:

A Homeschool Co-op is:

1. Every participating family is legally homeschooling according to their state homeschool laws.

Look up your state homeschool laws here:

2. Parents (or legal custodians) are the main provider of their children’s homeschool education.
In most states being the main provider of education means limited instruction by a non-parental instructor. Some states go so far as to put day and hour restrictions on non-parental instruction. Most homeschool co-ops meet only one day a week; some may meet two days a week to maintain the requirement that the parent is the main provider of the child’s homeschool education.

This also may mean that if a child is enrolled in a public school virtual program, they are not a homeschooled student, even if the virtual public school instruction takes place in the child’s home. Illinois and several other states do have a dual enrollment policy (or part time public school option), usually for high school students, so look into the details for your state.

3. A homeschool co-op means that parents stay on-site and cooperatively help in the classroom as a teacher or helper. There are “drop off” programs for homeschool students. They do not use parent volunteers but rather hire instructors. They are not “co-ops” because the parents are not cooperatively sharing the teaching, but they are still homeschool educational programs.

These homeschool programs may or may not need to be licensed as daycare centers depending on their state laws, how frequently they meet, etc.

Look up your state’s daycare licensing laws here:

The best advice I could offer to Natalie is to contact the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services Child Care Licensing Agency. Natalie will need explain to the details of her situation and see what they advise.

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Pandemic Pods: Are They Homeschool Co-ops?

Pandemic pods. I have been reading about groups of parents gathering to teach their children in small groups called “pandemic pods” because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sounds like a homeschool co-op, right?

I’ve already had a few parents, teachers, and homeschool group leaders contact me about forming a pod to help school age children have a somewhat normal school-like experience this fall.

They ask me questions like one father, Will in Ohio, asked:

  • Is my pandemic pod a homeschool co-op?
  • Or is it a micro school?
  • If I hire a teacher to help with school work and care for the children in a location that is not my house, are we a daycare?

Excellent questions. Will and I both started reading about homeschool laws, non-public school laws (the micro school option), and daycare licensing in Ohio.

None of current Ohio laws seems to address what Will wants to do.

That’s because we’ve never been faced with a pandemic when public schools had to close their buildings and offer online instruction!

Case Study: Will in Ohio

Will wants to have 6-8 kindergarten and first grader students meet in a non-residential location four days a week (9 am to 2 pm) under the supervision of a hired teacher. He plans to use Ohio’s Virtual Learning option as the curriculum, so the students will be enrolled in their local public school as virtual students.

Additionally, Will has to have his pod set up in about a month. His public school wants parents to enroll their children in about 2 weeks! He’s under the gun. And he isn’t sure that this is a long-term arrangement. It may only last for 3-6 months, so he wants something simple, fast and inexpensive to set up.

Options to Consider:

Here’s what Will is considering and the thought process he went through with of each option:

A home education program (sometimes called a homeschool co-op). Home education is defined in Ohio as “education primarily directed and provided by the parent or guardian of a child.” That didn’t seem to fit what Will was planning since the education would be provided by an in-person hired teacher (and a perhaps virtual teacher from the public school), not the parents. Will is considering reducing the number of hours the pod meets, so that the parents are the primary educators of their children, not he pod teacher.

All students must be legally homeschooled according to Ohio’s homeschool laws. If the students are enrolled in a public virtual school, they are public schooled students and not home schooled students in Ohio.

Each homeschooling parent would have to notify that they are homeschooling and submit a list of curriculum to their local superintendent. Will is not convinced that the pod parents want to homeschool or are able to agree to fewer hours at the pod with the hired teacher.

So forming as a home education program did not look like a viable option for Will’s pod.

A micro school which in Ohio could fall under non-chartered non-tax supported school, also known as “08” schools.

This option requires the students to be in attendance at the school for nine hundred ten hours in a school year. This is more hours than Will was planning for his pod. He may still consider this option but the children will be in school 5 days a week and at least 6 hours each day for 30 weeks.

Additionally, this option in Ohio is for schools that because of truly held religious beliefs choose to not be chartered by the State Board of Education. That may not describe Will’s pod or the pod parents’ convictions.

He also needs to determine how quickly he can establish an “08” school. He will need to contact the Ohio Department of Education and other “08” schools to get their experience.

Daycare for School Aged Children. Will considered having his pandemic pod becoming licensed as a School Age Daycare center in Ohio. The students would be enrolled as public school virtual students. The pod’s hired teacher is really functioning as a daycare provider for school aged students. Ohio requires a daycare license for that.

He is unsure of how soon he can get a daycare license and if he can operate the pandemic pod before getting licensed. He needs to contact the State of Ohio Daycare licensing agency.

So Will is not finding a way to operate his educational pod as he envisioned. He may change his vision by increasing the days per week the students attend the pod and establish as micro school. This will be more expensive for the parents and perhaps time consuming for Will.

Recommended Steps

As you consider opening a pandemic pod, work through each option as Will has done.

Read the homeschool, school, and daycare laws of your state and its limitations. Make lists. Determine where you can comply with the law and where you need to change your plans.

Work with knowledgeable people such as:

  • A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who understands business, establishing a nonprofit, taxes, and profitability of a “pandemic pod.” Will doesn’t think his pod will be profitable; he is estimating a loss for its first year.
  • An attorney who understands education laws, daycare licensing laws and employment contracts.

Talk to people who have started micro schools in your state. Here are two resources to get you stated.

  • Meridian Learning is a resource and advocacy organization for grassroots microschools.

Determine your level of risk. Will is investigating insurance coverage, looking into safety and health policies, and setting up the pod as either a nonprofit corporation or as a LLC to manage the risks he sees.

Be careful about getting advice of parents on social media. They may live in different state or have set up their programs very differently than you.

Even small things like where your pod meets (in a home or not), the hours per day or days in a year the pod meets, and the number and ages of children in a pod can all determine what laws you need to comply with.

How Can HomeschoolCPA Help?

I can help you if you are interested in starting a homeschool co-op or homeschool educational program for homeschooling families in your state, especially as a nonprofit organization.

I am an accountant with experience in nonprofit organizations and tax exempt status. I am not an attorney. I cannot answer legal questions for you.

I am not an expert in day care licensing, so please don’t ask me daycare questions.

I have consulted with micro school business owners in the past, but at this time I am limiting my consultations to nonprofit homeschool organizations and occasionally business serving homeschool students, especially if they are in Ohio.

I helped Will because he started off thinking he was going to operate a homeschool co-op. It was only in delving into the details that he started investigating other options.

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders

IRS Makes It Easier to Convert to a Nonprofit Corporation

For years I told small homeschool groups:

“If you never incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in your state, then by default, your organization is an unincorporated association.”

And I also told them that,

Unincorporated associations CAN apply for 501 tax exempt status,


If your association someday decides to incorporate, you have to reapply for 501 tax exempt status.

So it might be a good idea to just become a nonprofit corporation from the start.

That was good advice because nonprofit corporate status has many advantages over unincorporated associations:

  • Limited liability for leaders and members
  • Longevity beyond the current leadership
  • A legal entity that can buy property, lease space, etc.

But the IRS realized that sometimes tax exempt associations want the benefits of being a nonprofit corporation. The IRS was telling them they needed to reapply for 501c3 status, although nothing else changed!

This reapplication process (filing the IRS dreaded Form 1023, paying a $600 fee, and waiting 6 months for the IRS to reply) was termed “burdensome” by the IRS. Finally!

So the IRS wised up and in 2018 created a document called Revenue Procedure 2018-15 which says (basically):

A domestic, exempt nonprofit association (in good standing) that restructures into a nonprofit corporation does not have to reapply for 501 tax exempt status

But there are a few conditions that need to be met:

  1. Domestic (meaning formed in the United States not a foreign country)
  2. Exempt meaning the association was already tax exempt by the IRS and has maintaining it tax exempt status by filing the annual Form 990/990-EZ or 990-N.
  3. Good standing in their state
  4. Have the IRS required language in their organizing documents (Articles of Association, Constitution, or bylaws)
  5. Not be an LLC or a partnership

Here’s an example that might apply to your homeschool group:

A homeschool support group formed in Ohio (#1 domestic) applied for and was granted 501c3 tax exempt status (#2 exempt) as an educational organization. They filed all required reports with Ohio’s Secretary of State (#3 Good standing). Their Constitution had the IRS required language about their 501c3 purpose, prohibitions, and dissolution (#4).

Then the support group grew larger started adding sports programs and a co-op. The leaders learned about the benefits of limited liability if they were restructured as a nonprofit corporation. They voted to convert to a nonporift corporation and filed Articles of Incorporation in Ohio.

Under the old rules this homeschool group would have to re-apply for 501c3 status with the IRS by filing Form 1023 (what I call the beast), pay the IRS $600 and probably pay a professional to prepare their application.

Under the new IRS Rev Proc 2018-15, there is no need to reapply. That saves $600 or more! Plus a lot of time!

All the IRS asks is that your file your annual information return, Form 990 or 990-EZ, and explain the restructuring and attach the new Articles of Incorporation. That’s it!

Additionally, you can keep the original EIN. The IRS website says:

“You will not be required to obtain a new EIN if any of the following statements are true….
Conversion at the state level (to be a corporation) with business structure remaining unchanged.”

Source Do you need a new EIN.

So, no you don’t need a new EIN! That’s saves a lot of hassle as well!

If you have questions about nonporift incorporation, 501c3 tax exempt status or running your homeschool group, contact me.

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Planning an Uncertain Future webinar for homeschool leaders is available for viewing!

Carol Topp and three homeschool leaders offered a webinar for homeschool group leaders on planning for an uncertain future this fall (2020).

Here are some of the comments for live attendees:

Enjoyed the webinar very much! Took away some great snippets that have had my head swimming with possibilities for the coming school year. Really excited about this year!

My co-leader and I have much to discuss in the next few days. Things we didn’t realize we should be considering were brought to light. I think, as a result of our attendance last evening, our planning will be more strategic.

Thank you ladies for doing this. Very helpful and insightful. I really appreciate your time in putting this together. ??

The webinar was recorded and is available for viewing:

The webinar panelists discussed:

  • Making Decisions as a Board
  • Planning Tools
  • Social Distancing in a Homeschool Group
  • Ideas from Homeschool Leader Panelists
  • How to Communicate Your Plans to Members

The webinar is offered at no cost to you. We hope it is helpful.

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Help a New Homeschool Group Start Up Quickly

Homeschooling is exploding in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and existing homeschool groups cannot accommodate all the newcomers.
But homeschool leaders want newbie homeschoolers to be successful and have support, so what’s to be done?

How about your existing homeschool group help start another homeschool group? It can be pretty easy. It’s called a “fiscal sponsorship” arrangement Here’s how it would work:

Step One:

Read up on a concept called “fiscal sponsorship.”
These blog posts will get you started:

Step Two:

Meet (online via Zoom) with the leaders of the new group. Explain the arrangement. The new group will exist as a “program” or a committee running the program under your existing homeschool organization.

The new program or committee leaders will get:

  • Use of the parent organization’s EIN (employer Identification Number)
  • Use of the parent organization’s nonprofit incorporation status. This means the new group does not have to form a new nonprofit entity
  • Use of the parent organization’s bank account. The parent organization may want to set up a new checking account for the new group with its existing EIN. Make sure the treasurer has online access to the new checking acocunt.
  • Use of the parent organization’s 501c3 tax exempt status. This is a HUGE advantage. The new group won’t have to apply to the IRS to grant tax exempt status. They can be up and running immediately!
  • Use of the parent organization’s bylaws. The new group will be under the parent organization’s bylaws as a new program, so the new group doesn’t need its own bylaws.
  • Use of the parent organization’s Policy Manuals, registration forms, etc.
  • Use of the parent organization’s website, Facebook account, and other online services for registration.
  • Coverage under the parent organization’s insurance policy. Another HUGE advantage. The parent organization should call its insurance provider and explain it is expanding. Ask for a new quote on what the increased cost will be. Make sure the new group pays the parent organization for their share of the insurance.

The new group will need to:

  • Set up a committee of at least 3 people to operate the new program. One of the parent group’s board members should be invited to all committee meetings to offer help and advice. She should report back to the parent organization on how the new program run by the committee is doing.
  • Find a location to hold their program, meet-ups, classes, etc.
  • Pay the parent organization their share of the insurance
  • Give financial reports to the parent organization at least every 3 months, although monthly is recommended.
  • Make 2-3 year plan for launching itself to be an independent organization.

Agreement in writing

I strongly recommend a written agreement signed by the Chair of the parent organization and the new program committee chair.

The agreement should outline the bullet points given above and add any other issues you think of.

If you want examples of agreements, you could look at some fiscal sponsorship samples
or read

Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right by Gregory Colvin. It describes six models of sponsorship that have been approved and accepted by the IRS. It details how the models work and why, how they differ and how they are similar.

Summary of the book and its six models of fiscal sponsorship by the author: Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right synopsis Colvin.pdf


The advantage of this idea is that your group can help start a new group as a program and there is very little you need to do except offer advice! The new group will have the advantage of being able to focus on starting their activities and not have to worry about paperwork, setting up a bank account, government filings, etc. The parent group has already done all that!

This comparison chart of starting a new organization or creating a committee as a fiscal sponsorship under an existing nonprofit was created by attorney Gregory Colvin. It shows how fast a committee can get started on running a new program.

It can work!

This idea is really something new and existing homeschool groups could do together to help new homeschoolers learn from the experienced ones!

If you have more questions about fiscal sponsorship or starting a new homeschool group, I am happy to set up a phone consultation. Contact me and we can discuss what questions you have!

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders