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

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

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

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

The IRS is on the prowl in 2019!

Every year the IRS Tax Exempt division releases a list of areas and issues they plan to focus on for audits and investigations. The IRS Tax Exempt division calls it their Program Letter. The Exempt Division is the branch of the IRS that grants 501c tax exempt status to nonprofit organizations.

The Charity Law blog discussed the IRS Tax Exempt work plan for 2019.

 

I found the list of things the IRS considers “the highest known priority and emerging risks” to be interesting, especially these two issues that affect homeschool programs, both nonprofit and for-profit:

  • Previous for-profit: focus on organizations formerly operated as for-profit entities prior to their conversion to IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations.
  • Worker classification (misclassified workers): determine whether misclassified workers result in incorrectly treating employees as independent contractors.

 

So if you are converting a for-profit homeschool business to a nonprofit organization, be prepared for some extra questioning and scrutiny from the IRS. You’ll have to file the longer Form 1023 to apply for 501c3 tax exempt status and explain in your Narrative why you are converting to nonprofit status. You will not be eligible for using the shorter IRS Form 1023-EZ.

 

My book, The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization  explains how to apply for 501c3 tax exempt status.

 

 

 

 

 

Additionally, if you are treating your homeschool program teachers or tutors as Independent Contractors, be prepared for the IRS to keep an eye on you and they may open an investigation into your worker classification.

 

 

My book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization will be a big help to you in paying workers.

 

 

 

Additionally, the IRS is hiring approximately 40 new revenue agents to process determination applications. Is that good news? More IRS revenue agents should mean both faster processing and increased audits and investigations! Both good and bad, in my opinion.

Carol Topp, CPA

HomeschoolCPA.com

 

Is your homeschool program a ministry or a business?

Sometimes I hear people calling their business a “ministry.”

Maybe because they are motivated by concern and care for their customers or because they donate a lot of their time for free.

I don’t refer to my accounting and consulting business as a ministry, but some people have thanked me for “my ministry” to homeschoolers.

Yes, I do give a lot of my time away for free especially on social media like this Facebook group for homeschool leaders that I moderate and frequently I might reply to an email without charging a fee (if it is a short reply!)

But I am running a business and I don’t want to give the false impression that I am running a ministry or operating a nonprofit organization.

OK, not a lot of accounting firms get confused with nonprofits (!), but there are some businesses and homeschool programs that present themselves as nonprofit organizations or “ministries” but they are really for-profit businesses.

I don’t like that. At best, it is confusing to call your business a ministry. At worst, it is deceptive and can damage the reputation of homeschooling.

 

I have tremendous respect for the late Larry Burkett founder of Christian Financial Concepts (now Crown Financial Ministries) who was both a business owner and operated a nonprofit ministry. He wrote:

Don’t practice deception. If you have a product to sell that you honestly believe will benefit other Christians, let it be known, but don’t promote it as a ministry or as a spiritual happening.

Let your yes be yes and your no be no. In other words, let people know what the company is and what the product is.

If there is a referral or finder’s fee paid to another person for a lead, let that be known too.

If you’re afraid of losing a sale because of total honesty, the program is dishonest.

Source: Larry Burkett in Using Your Money Wisely p. 76 and 77 copyright 1985. You can read a longer excerpt here.

 

I have heard from several nonprofit homeschool organizations that say churches in their local communities got “burned” by for-profit homeschool groups posing as “ministries.” Read this blog post to understand why churches are reluctant to host for-profit businesses.

Now these legitimate nonprofit homeschool groups have difficulty getting a church to host their program.

Being deceptive hurts everyone.

We’re better than that!

 

Carol Topp, CPA

HomeschoolCPA.com

Helping homeschool leaders

Are my homeschool co-op fees a tax deductible donation?

I’m a homeschool parent and member of a homeschool co-operative that weeks weekly. I have to pay tuition to this group for the classes my children take there. Can my children’s tuition for the co-op be a tax deduction?

 

I assume you mean deductible as a charitable donation.

Co-op fees are not a tax deductible charitable donation because services (co-op classes for your children) were received in return for the tuition payments. Tuition payments are not a tax deductible donations.They are personal expenses and are not tax deductible.

But if a parent makes a charitable gift to the homeschool group (assuming it has 501c3 tax exempt status from the IRS) above and beyond the tuition and fee payments, then this amount would be a tax deductible donation.

Some homeschool parents ask if co-op fees can be deducted as childcare expenses. My reply is “usually not” and here are the details: Are homeschool co-op fees child care tax deductions?

 


Did you get paid for teaching at a homeschool program? You may have questions about your taxes? I offer webinar to help you understand the tax implications of being a paid homeschool co-op teacher or tutor:

I recorded a webinar on Tax Preparation for Homeschool Business Owners. It should be a lot of help to tutors, non-employee co-op teachers and other homeschool business owners! You can watch the recording at HomeschoolCPA.com/HSBIZTAXES for a small fee of $10.

Carol, thank you again for the webinar. It was one of the BEST webinars I’ve EVER attended. If you do hold another one, I would pay for it hands down. Totally worth the $10! -Denise, webinar attendee

“I actually don’t care for webinars at all – it is not my learning style at all and I struggle to focus, but this one was extremely value and had my attention”. -Mary, webinar attendee


I hope that helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

HomeschoolCPA.com

Helping homeschool leaders

13 benefits of homeschool co-ops

This is a throwback to 2009 when first posted and is still a great list of benefits to homeschool co-ops!

Heart of the Matter had a great article written by Katie Kubesh on the benefits of homeschooling with co-ops.  She surveyed several co-ops members and here is what they received by being in a homeschool co-op:

  1. Kids enjoy the variety of resources and materials provided
  2. Parents do not have to do as much research and footwork on their own; they are able to share with other co-op parents
  3. Co-ops gives homeschooling families the opportunity to bond with other families in their city or state
  4. Co-ops keep homeschooling families on schedule
  5. Co-ops keep homeschooling families accountable for their studies
  6. The extracurricular activities are fun for both the parents and kids, including football games, craft parties, theme parties, field trips, etc.
  7. People who belong to co-ops sponsored by their church appreciate the opportunity to share their faith and bond with other parish families and the pastors, who sometimes participate also
  8. Co-ops that offer classes or unit studies give students the opportunity to learn a broader range of topics and/or to learn a subject their own parents may not be comfortable teaching, for example higher level mathematics, music, or foreign languages
  9. Students are exposed to different types of teachers
  10. Students are held accountable by someone other than their parents
  11. Parents provide each other with support and encouragement
  12. Students have the opportunity to interact with kids of all ages, not just their grade or age level
  13. People who belong to co-ops have a wide selection of experiences. Some belong to large co-ops that include over 200 families. Larger co-ops are able to teach many classes (one offers 80 different classes from preschool through high school with subjects ranging from science, math, history, art, music, foreign languages, drama, and public speaking) and sponsor many field trips and other activities. Some larger co-ops even offer courses that students earn college credits for.

Isn’t that a great list?  I especially like # 9, 10 & 11  because those are the main benefits I received from my homeschool co-op.

Katie goes on to explain the benefits or large and small co-ops.  Sometimes small co-ops grow into large co-ops and the leaders find themselves managing larger groups of people, in a larger space and handling more money.

My book Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out can also help a homeschool co-op leader run a successful co-op, whether small, medium or large, without burning out!

Carol Topp, CPA

California homeschool leaders: A webinar just for you!

For California homeschool leaders: I have something special for you!
A free webinar
on

Money Tips and Traps for Homeschool Organizations

Monday December 3, 2018 at 6:30 pm California time

and
Carol Topp, CPA, the HomeschoolCPA

 

The webinar is for all homeschool leaders of co-ops, support groups, CC Communities, sports, music, clubs, etc! Whether your group is large or small, new or mature, you can learn something new or improve on what you are currently doing!
The webinar will cover:
  • Tips for managing the money in your homeschool group
  • Board duties (what leaders should be doing!) concerning money
  • What financial reports California requires
  • What reports you should be filing with the IRS
  • Money traps to avoid
  • Taxes and tax exempt status
  • Paying workers
  • Avoiding errors and embezzlement

There will also be time for your questions and answers!

The webinar will be held  Monday December 3, 2018 at 6:30 pm California time
You can join my phone, PC, Mac, iphone, iPad, etc. from wherever you are!

 

The webinar is free, but you must register to be emailed the link.

 

In addition the webinar will be recorded, so be sure to register so you get the recording link emailed to you!
If you can’t attend the live webinar, still register, so you will be sent the link to view the webinar later.

 

I hope you can join me on Monday December 3, 2018  at 6:30 pm PT
Thanks to CHEA for hosing and helping put on his webinar for homeschool leaders!

 

Register today even if you can’t join us live so you will get the link to the recording.

 

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com