Good, easy and cheap. Your homeschool program cannot offer all three!

Shelly wants to offer a high quality, low cost homeschool program that doesn’t require parents to volunteer.

I told her the bad news: “You cannot offer all three.”

She can’t and you can’t either!

Business success (and failure) prove it:

McDonald’s provides fast food very quickly at a fairly reasonable price; But you have to admit the quality is not the best. They offer two things consumers want, but not all three.

Another example could be Starbuck’s coffee.  At Starbuck’s they offer high quality coffee drinks provided quickly, but we know that it’s not cheap! 

Or how about MoviePass which allows you to go to a movie theater once a day for $9.95/month, or see three movies a month for $7.95. It’s cheap, convenient and high quality (these are first run movies, not oldies!)  Is Movie Pass able to offer all three! Nope! MoviePass is having serious financial problems. It is losing $40 million a month, and those loses are expected to increase. Their attempt to offer all three is crushing them and they are on the road to failure.

How does this apply to homeschool groups?

Your group can offer two of the three things that homeschool families may want:

High quality: maybe small classes, qualified, caring teachers, fun enrichment classes or rigorous academic classes

Low Cost: Affordable prices, low fees, maybe even free!

Convenient: No time commitment from the parents, maybe even a drop-off-the-kids-and-leave option for homeschool parents who need to work.

Many homeschool co-ops offer quality and low cost but have a requirement that the parents stay in the building and help by teaching or serving in a classroom or other jobs. Hence the name “cooperative.” The parents keep the cost low by cooperating together to run the classes.

A tutorial program might offer academic classes taught by highly qualified teachers with no volunteer commitment for the parents, but it will not come cheap. The tuition may approach that of private schools.

 

Shelley wanted all three (drop off academic classes at a low price) and I explained that she could not sustain the program unless she either charged more or started requiring the parents to volunteer.

“But many parents can’t pay more,” she complained to me. “And they work, so they need the drop off feature. They can’t stay and volunteer.”

She had 3 options:

  1. Find other sources of funding including fundraisers, donations and grants.
  2. Require parents to volunteer. This was going to be be very difficult since Shelly was having problems even recruiting board members to meet once a  month!
  3. Close the program and start over. The expectations of the parents was so entrenched that they should get drop-off classes at a low fee, there was no changing that! The entire program needed an overhaul.

My book Money Management in a Homeschool Organization has a chapter on fundraisers for homeschool groups.

Money Management in a Homeschool Organization available here

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

New homeschool co-op wants simplicity. Any taxes due?

Hi Carol.
I started up a group of a few families last year as a homeschool co-op in our community. As we have grown a little more this year, I would like to start up a checking account.

My question is, after I get an EIN and open the checking account for the co-op, what is required at tax time, if anything, for having that account?

I don’t want to be recognized yet with the IRS as a 501c3, just for sake of simplicity at this time. Am I going to be required to do anything because of having this checking account?

We do not pay teachers, the account is strictly for fees and supply costs.

This semester we will only be taking in about $2,500 at max. and that is stretching it.

Thank you for your advice.
Callie


Callie,

I have answered your questions in some blog posts that you may find helpful:

Will getting an EIN put us on the IRS radar?

Best of: Checking accounts for homeschool organizations

We’re not 501c3 and don’t want to be!

The last blog post explains you have a few choices if you collect money and provide a service:

  1. Stay small and self declare 501c3 tax exempt status. This is the simplest option and the one I recommend for Callie’s organization.

    She will have to call the IRS once to self-declare her 501c3 status and get added to the IRS Exempt Organization database so the group can file their annual IRS Form 990-N.

  2. Consider another tax exempt status such as 501c7 social club. This is applicable to support groups or clubs, but not for Callie’s homeschool co-op.

  3. Apply for 501c3 status, especially if annual revenues exceed $5,000/year. I can help with that.

  4. Pay taxes as a for-profit business. That’s the least simple way to go! I don’t recommend it!


If you are starting or running a tiny homeschool program (usually less than $5,000 in income in a year), then you’ll benefit from my resources and podcast series for Tiny Homeschool Groups.

Tips for Starting a Tiny Homeschool Group


Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Homeschool Teacher Accused Molester: How to Safeguard Children

The headlines that came proclaimed something we all fear: A homeschool teacher molests 17 year old girl.

Arkansas mom held for sexually abusing teenage girl

As homeschool leaders we never want to read about the horrific things that could happen in a homeschool program.

In this specific case, the events between the accused and victim did not take place during the co-op time.

Take time to assess your risk based on your activities. Develop, communicate, and stick to a plan. The links below will help.

Check with your state to determine who is mandated to report child abuse.

In this case, a parent reported her concerns to the pastor of he church where the homeschool co-op was held. He is a mandatory reporter and the pastor reported the abuse to the police.

Reporting is typically confidential.

Your leadership needs to know what to do if there is a report of suspected abuse. It is never the leadership’s responsibility to investigate, only to report to authorities.

Often, leaders feel they should investigate to see if it really happening – feeling that they need to have the claim substantiated before reporting, but that’s not true.

 

Resources to Safeguard Children

There are lots of websites that offer guidelines on assessing your risk and creating a response plan. Below are two that will get you started.

This important thing is not that you read these sites.

The important thing is that your board create and stick to a plan.

Get educated and act on it.

Managing and reducing risk in your program

Key Principles in Youth Protection

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders…to safeguard children

Tips for Starting a Tiny Homeschool Group

 

Carol,

What are the absolute essential things a small growing co-op needs to do to organize and avoid future headaches? We are entirely run by volunteers, and moms are required to remain on site, either teaching or assisting in some way. Right now we have 13 families and 35 kids ranging from infant to 10th grade.

-C Wilson

 

Dear C,

While the bigger homeschool groups get most of the attention on this website, tiny homeschool groups are abundant.

You asked an excellent question. I created a 4-part podcast series to help answer your question.

 

And here’s a blog post that sounds very similar to your group:

12 moms want to start a homeschool co-op. How to get started

 

My ebook Homeschool Board Member Manual may be very helpful. It’s a way to organize your group’s important paperwork and a board training guide.

 

Finally, tiny homeschool leaders are encouraged to join the Facebook group for homeschool leaders I am a Homeschool Group Leader. Join over 1,000 other leaders for support and information.

 

That’s a lot to help you get started! Divvy up the jobs. Don’t start even a tiny homeschool group on your own. Gather a board  and start learning together!

 

Carol Topp, CPA

Helping Homeschool Leaders

Is your homeschool group “just a bunch of moms”?

I’ve heard this too many times from homeschool group leaders to ignore it any longer.

“We’re just a bunch of homeschool moms”

It’s usually used along with one of these sentences,

…therefore we don’t want to (or need to) ...

  • be formally structured
  • follow the law
  • pay taxes
  • apply for tax exempt status
  • pay our workers as employees (according to the law)
  • record our income or expenses
  • notify our church host of the for-profit nature of our group, etc…

I’ve heard or read just about every one of these excuses!

Does saying “we’re just a bunch of homeschool moms” imply that:

  • homeschool moms are incapable of running legitimate businesses or nonprofit organizations?
  • homeschool moms can’t understand legal and tax issues?
  • homeschool moms are claiming ignorance as a defense against obeying the law?

Homeschool moms are intelligent, capable women. I know of hundreds of homeschool moms running businesses and nonprofit organizations very successfully and legally. I know some that are accountants and lawyers or, in the true spirit of homeschooling, are self-educated to understand complex tax and legal situations.

So let’s not imply that homeschool moms are not capable or not intelligent by saying “we’re just a bunch of homeschool moms”!

Instead, we should do what we do at home with our children:

Get educated about the legal and financial aspects of running a homeschool organization.

I have resources to help:

 

Carol Topp, CPA

Helping Homeschool Leaders who are smart and capable!

 

Tiny Homeschool Groups: Are We a Nonprofit?

Tiny Homeschool Groups: Are We a Nonprofit?

Tiny homeschool groups have different challenges than large programs. They are limited on resources, volunteers, and activities. But they still have questions about legal status, money and taxes that the large homeschool organizations have.

In this 4-part podcast series, Carol Topp, CPA answers the common questions that tiny homeschool groups face. All podcasts are available at HomeschoolCPA.com/Podcast

  • Episode #175 Are We a Nonprofit?
  • Episode #176 Do We Need to File Anything?
  • Episode #177 Do We Need to Pay Taxes?
  • Episode #178 Do We Need a Bank Account?

In this episode of the HomeschoolCPA podcast, Carol Topp will share:

  • Should our homeschool group be a nonprofit?
  • What does it take to be a nonprofit?
  • Aren’t we just a bunch of homeschool moms?
  • How can we avoid unnecessary paperwork?
  • How can we keep this simple?

Join the Facebook group for homeschool leaders: I am a Homeschool Group Leader. 600+ homeschool leaders offer ideas, encouragement and respectful exchange of ideas. https://www.facebook.com/groups/72534255742/

 

Featured Product

The  Board Manual for homeschool organizations will be very helpful to organize your board and run your homeschool organization successfully!

Author and homeschool advisor, Carol Topp, CPA, has created a Homeschool Organization Board Manual. It is a template to create a board member binder. It has:

  • A list of important documents to keep in your binder
  • Section dividers so you can organize the important papers
  • Tools to help you run your meetings smoothly including
  • A sample agenda that you can use over and over again
  • A calendar of board meetings

But this is more than just a few cover sheets for your binder. It is also a 55-page board training manual with helpful articles on:

  • Suggested Board Meeting Topic List
  • Board Duties
  • Job Descriptions for Board of Directors
  • What Belongs in the Bylaws?
  • Compensation and Benefits for Board Members
  • Best Financial Practices Checklist
  • How to Read and Understand Financial Statements
  • Developing a Child Protection Policy

Read more about the Homeschool Organization Board Manual

12 moms want to start a homeschool co-op. How to get started

Carol,

12 mommies started a homeschool co-op. We offer an educational learning class three times a month and social events (field trips). We are wanting to do things right. We are thinking of collecting dues and selling goods to have money for trips. How do we get started with registering as nonprofit, filing a 501c3, doing everything legal in my state?
Courtney

 

Courtney,

Good for you and the 12 families to help each other homeschool by forming a co-op!

Start by reading through my checklist of steps to form a nonprofit and apply for tax exempt status.

One of your first tasks will be to form a board, the 3-5 people who will lead the group and make major decisions.

My webinar Create a Nonprofit for Your Homeschool Community will offer you some great tips to form a board.

 

Then my book Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out should be a big help.

Finally one of your officers (usually the Treasurer) should read my book The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization. It explains the process to apply for 501c3 tax exempt status.

 

 

When you’re ready contact me and we can set up a phone call to see if you’re set up enough to apply for 501c3 tax exempt status!

 

Carol Topp, CPA

HomeschoolCPA.com

Helping Homeschool Leaders

Special Needs Children in a Homeschool Co-op

Special needs children can be a challenge for a homeschool group leader. In this episode (14 minutes), Faith Berens, Special Needs Consultant at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) explains to host Carol Topp how a homeschool co-op can welcome a child with special needs.

In this episode of the HomeschoolCPA podcast, Faith shared:

  • All children want to feel welcomed
  • Tips for accommodating a child with special needs including using intake forms and having a pre-visit time
  • Why asking “How can we support you?” is so helpful to a parent
  • A helpful book to read aloud to children, Just the Way I am: God’s Good Design and Disability
  • A resource for homeschool leaders Homeschooling Children with Special Needs by Sharon Hensley
  • The website Understood.org has helpful videos and a podcast

HSLDA’s list of resources https://hslda.org/content/strugglinglearner/default.asp

 

Faith Berens can be reached by email at SpecialNeeds@HSLDA.org.

The next episode (#172) Faith will share some more resources and practical tools for homeschool leaders to help families of children with special needs.

 

In this episode, Carol mentions:

Homeschool Co-ops:
How to Start Them, Run Them and not Burn Out

Have you ever thought about starting a homeschool co-op? Are you afraid it will be too much work? Do you think you’ll have to do it all by yourself? Starting a homeschool co-op can be easy! This book Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out will give you ideas, inspiration, tips, wisdom and the tools you need to start a homeschool co-op, run it and not burn out!

Click Here to request more information!

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Reimbursement policy for a homeschool group

We discussed during our phone call the need to require receipts from our homeschool program’s teachers before they are reimbursed. I have some board members that are concerned. They are afraid it will be seen as more trouble than it’s worth and that we will have fewer moms volunteer. Their question is whether receipts are necessary.

-BW

 

BW,

Reimbursements…yes, the paperwork and receipts are necessary, because if your homeschool organization gives a volunteer a check without getting a receipt from her, it is considered taxable income to the volunteer teacher (under what the IRS calls a “nonaccountable plan”).

But if the volunteer teacher gives you a receipt, then the money your homeschool group pays her is NOT taxable income to her.

Here’s a blog post you should share with your board: No receipts for expenses can get you in trouble!

Your homeschool program should have a reimbursement policy that is an “accountable plan” to avoid your volunteers having to report the reimbursement as income on their tax return.

To be an accountable plan by the IRS, your reimbursement plan must include all three of the following rules:

  1. The expenses must have a business connection; that is, the expenses must have been paid or incurred while performing services as an employee (or volunteer) to your organization.
  2. The volunteer or employee must adequately account for these expenses within a reasonable time (typically within 120 days). Your homeschool organization must require volunteers/employees to give you detailed information on these expenses, including date, time, place, amount, and  purpose for the expense.  Lots of homeschool groups create a reimbursement form. I offer a sample here (it’s an Excel spreadsheet so you can edit it if you like).
  3. You must require the volunteer or employee to return excess reimbursements within a reasonable and specific period of time (usually 60 days). This is applicable if you give money in advance to a volunteer. Giving and advance is not typical in homeschool groups, but a few groups have told me that they give advances to some volunteer teachers.

If all three of these requirements are not met, the plan is determined by the IRS not to be an accountable plan, and any expenses reimbursed to the employee by your homeschool program are taxable to the volunteer!

So now you can see the importance of requesting those receipts (and having an accountable plan)!

Better yet, use my sample reimbursement form (opens an Excel spreadsheet) since it collects all the information required by the IRS to have an accountable plan.

I strongly recommend that your reimbursement policy state that if no receipts are turned in, no reimbursement money will be paid to a volunteer!

 

My book Money Management in a Homeschool Organization offers tips on reimbursement plan and other aspects of managing the money in a homeschool group.

Carol Topp, CPA

HomeschoolCPA.com

 

Income and expenses are a “wash.” Do I have to record them?

I’m treasurer for a nonprofit homeschool group. Every year some of the teachers charge a lab fee and it all gets spent on lab equipment. Do we have to claim that as income or is it just a wash because it’s used for materials or experiments?

Homeschool Treasurer

 

 

Dear Homeschool Treasurer,

You should claim/record the lab fees collected in full as income to your group.

Then also record the lab or equipment expenses to clearly reflect both the income and the expense.

If you don’t record the income, because it is a “wash” (meaning the same as the expenses, so no effect on your profit or surplus), then you are guilty of both under-reporting income and under-reporting expenses.

Your board will not have an accurate picture of all the income and all the expenses.

And you’ll be lying to the IRS! This is obviously more serious if your homeschool group is a for-profit business.

I warn against mixing income and expenses in your bookkeeping in my book Money Management in a Homeschool Organization.

Please take a few minutes and record all your income and all your expenses.

Carol Topp, CPA

HomeschoolCPA.com

Helping Homeschool Leaders