Josh Shepherd an investigative journalist, has been researching the business practices of Classical Conversations for several months.
He released an article on the Roys Report titled “Whistleblowers Say Classical Conversations is Multi-Level Marketing Scheme that Exploits Homeschooling Parents” at https://julieroys.com/does-classical-conversations-exploit-homeschooling-parents/
It’s an interesting, eye-opening, and thought provoking articles. I was interviewed by Josh Shepherd for the article and I am quoted in it several times because I have had so many conversations and business consultations with CC Directors in the past few years.
Background on Classical Conversations’ business model
Classical Conversations is a unique homeschool business. It offers curriculum to homeschool families and once -a-week “communities” where “tutors” display to the students and parents how to implement the curriculum in their homeschool. The “communities” have the feel of a nonprofit homeschool co-op, but the “communities” are almost always for-profit businesses owned and operated by each Director. Each Director agrees to a licensing agreement with Classical Conversations Inc. that is similar to a franchise agreement. Each Director sends a significant portion of her income back (averages about 15%) to CC Inc. as a licensee, much like a franchise operator does.
I became aware of the franchise-like business structure of CC, Inc. and its Directors around 2015. In 2017, I became more and more concerned as I spoke with many CC Directors at homeschool conventions and via email and found they were very confused. Many did not realize they had agreed to operate a business. Many had made significant mistakes on their tax returns. I began creating several blog posts on my HomeschoolCPA.com website to clear up their confusion.
My concern is now and always has been for the individual Directors because I care about homeschool group leaders. I want CC Directors to have the information they need to make a wise decision before they become CC Directors. I also want them to stay out of trouble with the IRS and state and local authorities.
Taxes for CC Directors ebook
As early as 2013 I offered more than once to write an ebook for CC Directors to a local CC Area Representative in Ohio. I never heard from CC Inc., so in the fall of 2017 I decided to write a book myself and help the poor, confused CC Directors I had been hearing from stay out of trouble with the IRS.
I told Robert Bortins, CC Inc. CEO at the 2017 HSLDA National Leaders Conference that I was writing a book titled Taxes for CC Directors and he thanked me for the support I gave to CC Directors.
In November 2018, I received an email and arranged a phone call with Keith Denton, COO of CC Inc. They wished to have distribution rights to the ebook. I thought that would work well, since I would find it difficult to reach CC Directors myself to tell them about the book. (I am not allowed to join Facebook groups for CC Directors since I am not a Director myself.) So I agreed. CC paid me $2,500 for the sole rights to distribute the ebook.
I sent Keith Denton my initial version of the book on Taxes for CC Directors in January 2019. After 1400+ corrections and additions by their attorney and two months later, CC added the 60 page ebook to their Directors Licensing Guide, a rather large online-only guide for licensed Directors.
Very shortly after (in August 2019) CC directors emailed me saying they could not access the ebook. Some people claim that CC bought the distribution rights and then “buried” the book. It made me wonder why they would pay for the rights and then not distribute it to each CC Director.
I rewrote the ebook after the major tax changes in 2019 and to appeal to a larger audience. I released it January 2020. It is now called Taxes for Homeschool Business Owners and available here.
CC Directors carry all the liability
My concern for CC Directors grew. I have concerns about the liability they take on when they agree to start a community and become a licensed Director for CC. They are responsible for:
- Hiring workers (tutors) and correctly classifying them as employees, payroll processing and taxes, employee application and background checks
- Building lease and rent, building safety and insurance, and potentially harming the church’s property tax exemption by operating a for-profit business on church property
- Safety of children and all adults participating which includes physical safety, health and COVID precautions, and mandatory reporting of suspected abuse.
- Daycare licensing if the community offers a nursery
- Tax reporting including 1099-NEC or W-2 filings for workers and Schedules C and SE on their individual tax returns
- Financial management including invoicing parents, record keeping, paying bills, etc.
- Not using using volunteer labor or allowing Independent Contractors (i.e., tutors) or employees to volunteer
- Business registration and licensing at the state and county level
- Complying with all the requirements in the CC licensing agreement including operating the program, hosting information meetings, attending training sessions, etc.
That’s quite a long list of responsibilities and potential areas of liability for a CC Director.
How much does a CC Director actually make?
In the article Josh shared a chart of income and expenses from several CC Directors. The fee they must pay to CC Corp averages 23% of their total revenues. Most Directors paid 15% of their revenues to CC Corporate. The profit from all their efforts averaged $2,811 working about 20 hours a week for a school year. The profit ranged from a $5,772 loss to $12,603 profit.
I think this information will be helpful for potential CC Directors to examine and ask themselves if the potential profit is worth the hours that a Director must put in to operating a CC community.
Many CC Directors tell me that they operate a community not to make a profit but to benefit their children with a classical education. I frequently hear, “I am a Director to help pay for my children’s tuition.” That’s very honorable, but that same purpose can be accomplished without taking on the financial, legal, and safety liabilities of running a CC program.
Almost all homeschool programs operate as nonprofit organizations with limited liability for their leaders and members. CC Communities are a noticeable exception. Nonprofit organizations also have a board or team of leaders to help carry the responsibility. CC Directors carry all the burdens alone since it is their business.
Is being a CC Director worth the liability?
Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders