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
HomeschoolCPA.com
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,

BUT

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
HomeschoolCPA.com
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
HomeschoolCPA.com
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

Advantages

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
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Is Our Homeschool Group a Church?

Carol,
Our homeschool co-op would like a consultation with you. Our group is classified as a church in our state. Some of us feel that this is not the correct classification. While we have a religious purpose, offer a class in worship arts, and have Bible Studies, we are like more homeschool co-ops. We don’t have worship services, clergy or a theology.
Can you help?

I had a wonderful video call with five members of this homeschool group. Indeed they were formed as a church in their state.

We discussed religious purpose and most importantly their state’s definition of “church” (or in this state “ecclesiastical organization”). This homeschool group just didn’t fit the definition of an ecclesiastical erganization!

Their state’s definition of a church or ecclesiastical organization is (my emphasis added in italics):


The term “church” and/or “church organization” used in this act shall be construed to include any church, denominational unit, or church society as the term is commonly used and understood but shall not apply to such organizations as Sunday schools,…Bible classes and similar societies organized by and affiliated with the parent churches.

My recommendation was to dissolve the organization as is and start a new nonprofit corporation with a religious and educational purpose to run the homeschool activities.


The homeschool group followed that advice is pursuing nonprofit incorporation and 501c3 tax exempt status for a new organization.


At the same time, a Classical Conversations Director asked a tax assessor in North Carolina this question:

“Classical Conversations is Christian education. It aligns with the values and beliefs of the host church. Shouldn’t we be covered under the religious rather than nonprofit educational exemption?”

His rely, with my emphasis added in bold for brevity:

NCGS 105-278.3 defines a religious purpose as “one that pertains to practicing, teaching, and setting forth a religion. Although worship is the most common religious purpose, the term encompasses other activities that demonstrate and further the beliefs and objectives of a given church or religious body.” The Roman Catholic Church has long used a system of education as a method for instilling its particular beliefs and practices in the minds of the youth. Many protestant and other religious schools are operated by churches and church organizations in the hope of bringing the youth into conformity with the organization’s beliefs. In the developing world, Sunday Schools often teach literacy and language skills to attract children and their parents while teaching them using heavily theological materials. Thus, it is not a stretch to associate educational curriculum with organized religions and religious practices.

Problematically, CC Communities are not themselves religious organizations, denominations, or churches. NCGS 105-278.3 defines such as “a congregation, parish, mission, or similar local unit of a church or religious body; or a conference, association, presbytery, diocese, district, synod, or similar unit comprising local units of a church or religious body.”


It speaks of furthering the beliefs and objectives of “a given church or religious body” and extends exemption to “a general or promotional office or headquarters” of a group listed above, along with “residences for clergy, rabbis, priests or nuns assigned to or serving a congregation, parish, mission or similar local unit, or a conference, association, presbytery, diocese, district, synod, province or similar unit of a church or religious body.” Great lengths are taken to clearly describe who may benefit from religious exemption.

For a CC Community to benefit from the religious exemption it must prove that it is one of the above categories. Merely being a ministry, a Christian organization, etc. is insufficient, you must be a church body.

Source: Jeremy K. Akins,
Tax Administrator Alamance County
North Carolina


So although Mr Akin’s reply only applies to his county (based on North Carolina laws), it gives us an understanding that frequently the meaning of “church” for tax purposes (or property tax exemption in this case) is defined in the tax code of the states.

In other words, we as citizens, nonprofit leaders, or business owners cannot define what a church is or when our business or nonprofit group should be eligible to be called a church.

Those definitions are already in place. We just need to do our research.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Do you have a passion to help homeschool leaders?

 

Do you have a passion to help homeschool leaders?

Does a consulting business helping homeschool leaders sound appealing to you?

I have enjoyed being “the HomeschoolCPA” and advising homeschool leaders for 20 years and I’m ready to start slowly handing over my consulting business to another person(s) via a mentoring program.

Potential mentees should have:

  • an interest in homeschooling,
  • education in accounting (CPA preferred) and
  • experience in nonprofit leadership

Homeschooling is a growing niche that could serve as a great sideline business or a perfect opportunity for a parent who want to homeschool and keep using his or her accounting education and experience.

If this sounds appealing to you, visit HomeschoolCPA.com/Mentoring for details.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Summer Special: Business Consultation for CC Directors

Classical Conversations (R) Directors are advised to seek advice from a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) about running their CC business, yet many Directors do not do that for several reasons:

  • It’s too expensive
  • The Director doesn’t know any CPAs
  • The CPA doesn’t understand homeschooling or CC
  • It’s inconvenient (what to do with the kids?)

Here’s a summer special just for CC Directors that solves all those problems!

Get a 50 minute business consultation by phone with Carol Topp, CPA and Stephanie Patrick, a former CC tutor and Director.

The price is only $50
. That’s half the usual rate for Carol’s professional time and expertise and you get Stephanie’s experience as a Director and Tutor as a bonus!

Or gather other Directors and pay $75 for 2 people on the call or $100 for 3 people! All Directors will join in a conference call to practice social distancing!

This is a limited time offer (only two months this summer) with limited availability (four time slots a week on Tuesday afternoons).

During our call we can discuss any of these topics:

  • Is my CC Community a business or a ministry?
  • Should I be paying my tutors as employees or Independent Contractors?
  • How do I pay myself?
  • Paying my church-host: Is it a donation?
  • Giving refunds and discounts (especially because of COVID-19 cancellations)
  • What tax deductions can I take?
  • Should my business be an LLC?
  • Do I pay my CC business for my children’s tuition?

There are so many questions you may have that we may have to limit them to your top four issues.
But there are resources to help you run your CC Community including:

Book your consultation today. This is a limited time offer and there is limited availability (four time slots a week on Tuesday afternoons).

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Options When Starting a Home School Business

I’ve been homeschooling my daughter for about 4 years. I enjoy it, I worked at a private school for a year, but It’s been on my heart to start my own home school. I could really use some help and advice on how to start my school, and the proper legal steps to take.Thank You! -LS.


Dear LS,

Thank you for contacting me.

It is unclear from your email if you want to:

  • homeschool other peoples’ children (like a tutor) in your home or
  • start a homeschool program (like a nonprofit co-op) or
  • start a business offering classes, like a tutorial, a few days a week
  • start a micro school (as your business).

If it’s homeschooling other peoples’ children in your home, these blog posts will be helpful:
Is it a homeschool co-op or Mary Poppins?
Homeschooling Other People’s Children. Is It Legal?

If you want to start a nonprofit homeschool group like a co-op, my website has lots of information including this checklist of steps. It’s a good place to start.

Offering services like classes to homeschool students is another option. Many people operate these programs or tutorials as sole proprietorship businesses. Classical Conversations Communities are one example. My ebook on Taxes for Homeschool Business Owners offers a lot of information on starting a business to serve homeschoolers.

Or if you want to start a full fledged 5-day per week micro school as your business (i.e., not a nonprofit) then read these blog posts:
Homeschool or microschool?
Fine line between a homeschool co-op and running a micro school

Of course, some homeschoolers start businesses using their experience (like me!). I wrote an articles titled, “Make Money from Your Homeschool Experience” You can read it here.

So as you see there are many options.

If you need more guidance, I would be happy to arrange a phone consultation with you. We can discuss whatever questions you have about your options.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

A Decision Making Tool for Homeschool Leaders

Homeschool leaders are having a hard time planning for the future this summer (2020). There are concerns about member’s safety as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, parents needing support homeschooling, and new families considering homeschooling long-term.

There are so many decisions to make. Is there anything to help homeschool leaders?

Yes. there is!

It’s called a decision matrix.

When I was in homeschool leadership, our board had four different locations to chose from. We created a decision matrix to help us evaluate all the options and what criteria was most important to us.
We considered the location, rent, facilities, and relationship with he host church. It was a visual tool to help us see which option was the best choice.

A decision matrix could be a bit help to your homeschool group as you plan your activities for the fall of 2020.

Some of the criteria you might want to consider include:

  • Low risk of spreading the coronavirus
  • Cost to run the activity
  • Ease of social distancing
  • Ease of sanitation
  • Popularity with members
  • Indoors or outdoors
  • Availability to everyone or just some
  • Welcoming to newcomers
  • Ease of running the activity
  • Does the activity help accomplish our purpose?

Below is a snapshot of a possible decision matrix. This example has five activities the homeschool group is considering (including a new idea) and the criteria they will use to evaluate offering each activity in the fall.

The support group meetings (in homes and moms only) received a high score, but unfortunately the in-person co-op classes did not; they were too risky.

You can also add a weight factor since not all criteria are equal in importance. In this example the criteria were ranked from one (low importance) to five (highest importance). Your group may have several ones and more than one five.

This decision matrix spreadsheet is available to download. I hope it is helpful to your group as they evaluate their programs and activities in the future.


Feel free to edit the Activities and Criteria and, of course, the scores to fit you particular group.

Be sure the wording of your criteria and scores are consistent. High scores means good, low scores are bad. For example, a low risk of spreading disease gets a high score. A high risk of spreading disease would get a low score. It’s easy to get the wording and scoring mixed up!

You are allowed to share this spreadsheet with other homeschool group leaders but please attribute Carol Topp, CPA at HomeschoolCPA.com


You might find my webinar Homeschool Leaders: Planning an Uncertain Future helpful. It’s meant to help homeschool leaders who are facing difficult decisions.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Webinar Recording Homeschool Leaders: Planning an Uncertain Future

Homeschool leaders are facing an uncertain future and tough decisions this fall as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused governments to impose social distancing laws and new health and safety guidelines.

Carol Topp and three homeschool leaders hosted webinar for homeschool group leaders on June 1, 2020.

Here are some of the comments from 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 can be viewed on YouTube https://youtu.be/AaQ1c_XuUvY?

The topics discussed included:

  • 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

A handout of the slides is available. Slide Handout


Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders