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

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

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

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

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

How do you create a budget with uncertainty?

Laura is a new homeschool leader struggling with figuring out what to charge for her program. She asked this question on the I am A Homeschool Group Leader Facebook page

If you are a small homeschool group, how do you figure out costs? We know for the space for the year it will cost us $900. We want to split it as equally as possible but without knowing the total number going to register, we don’t know what to divide it by. -Laura


Laura,
In accounting there are fixed expenses (like your rent or website fees which does not vary with the number of families you serve) and variable expenses, which vary depending on the number of families you serve (like supplies and sometime insurance).

Variable expenses are usually easy to estimate and charge the families accordingly.

But fixed expenses like the website, rent, etc. need to be paid from what you charge families, too. Sometimes they are called overhead expenses. So I recommend that you estimate a minimum number of families you expect and then create a budget of what income you need to cover both the variable expenses and the overhead (fixed expenses).

Create several budgets with varying numbers of families.

Don’t be afraid to over charge. You need to accommodate for those overhead/fixed expenses.

I see lots of homeschool groups charging several fees for every last expense like $9 for insurance, $5 for the website, $20 for supplies, etc. That assumes that everything is a variable expense, but it’s not.

Instead, just charge the families one round dollar amount. Make sure it’s large enough to cover the variable expense, the overhead (fixed) expenses, and a buffer.

You need a buffer for unexpected expenses or surprises like a global pandemic!


Want advice from other homeschool leaders? Join with 1300 other homeschool leaders on the I am A Homeschool Group Leader Facebook page
We offer ideas, feedback and encouragement that only other homeschool leaders would understand!


Other leaders in the Facebook group ‘ offered this advice:

You might start by deciding what the maximum amount your families would be willing to pay. For example, if you don’t want your families to pay more than $50 per family for the use of space, you know you need a minimum of 18 families (to cover a $900 facility fee).

Our first year, we took our best wild guess at how many families we thought we would have. We underestimated just to be safe. We had money left over because we had more families join than we budgeted for which was great. That allowed us to have some buffer money in case we had years with low enrollment.

In my experience it is always better to slightly overcharge rather than undercharge. It’s a great thing to have enough money to pay for unanticipated costs without having to ask the families (for more money) every time.


You might find my book Money Management is a Homeschool Organization helpful. I discuss budgets and show a few sample budgets.


Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

A budget can reduce stress

 

As a homeschool leader, are you “a people person” and hate dealing with numbers or a budget? Do numbers or a budget stresses you out?

Numbers on a budget can help homeschool leaders plan and look to the future. A budget can do a lot to reduce stress.

If you make a plan and know what might be coming, it will help you set priorities.

 

I’m writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic, something none of us planned for!  But hopefully, we will be returning to “normal” (whatever that will look like!) sometime soon.

Aren’t we glad that many scientists and hospitals had already made pandemic plans? Yes, we have had shortages and problems, but we’ve coped a lot better because some leaders made plans.

A budget helps you and your leadership team ask yourselves :

  • What is important to us in our group? Is it cost, convenience or quality? You cannot offer all three! Choose two.
  • Is it important that we keep the cost extremely low? A budget that aims for low cost is going to be a very different budget than one aiming for top quality.

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

A budget helps you focus, plan, and set your group’s priorities.   So, believe it or not–having a budget might sound like it is a limiting thing, and some people don’t like budgets. But instead a budget can bring great freedom and relief from a lot of stress.  


If you need help establishing a budget, start with my article  Budgeting basics

And consider ordering my book Money Management for Homeschool Organizations.

This 115 page book will help you to open a checking account, establish a budget, prevent mistakes and fraud, use software to keep the books, prepare a financial statement and hire workers.

Sample forms and examples of financial statements in clear English are provided.


Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Speech and Debate Club – Unsure of Its Setup?

Carol Topp, the Homeschool CPA, is frequently asked by small homeschool groups if they are setup up correctly.

Do they owe taxes?

Do they need to be a nonprofit corporation?

Henry  writes, “Can a small homeschool education club focused on speech and debate be categorized as an “unincorporated association” and therefore not apply for recognition by the IRS and not file taxes?

Less than $2,000 pass through the club to pay for insurance and facilities…

This club formed in 2015 and I joined last year and become the director this year. I am wondering if we are structured correctly…”

Listen to Carol’s reply to Henry’s questions on today’s episode of the Homeschool Leader podcast.

  • Can the Speech and Debate Club be a 501c3?
  • Do they need to be a formalized entity?
  • Should they get an EIN?
  • What should they do to be structured correctly?
  • Do they owe taxes?

In the podcast, Carol mentioned how a small nonprofit like Henry’s club can self-declare 501c3 tax exempt status. Carol has a few blog posts on self-declaring 501c3 tax exempt status and the filing the IRS annual notice, Form 990-N:

https://homeschoolcpa.com/how-to-get-added-to-the-irs-database-and-file-the-form-990n/

https://homeschoolcpa.com/irs-form-990n-faq/

In the podcast I mentioned my book The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization

Does your homeschool group need to pay taxes? Could they avoid paying taxes by being a 501c3 tax exempt organization? Do you know the pros and cons of 501c3 status? Do you know what 501c3 status could mean for your homeschool group?

I have the answers for you in my book The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization. The information I share in my book has been helpful to homeschool support groups, co-ops, music and sports groups and will help you understand:

  • The benefits of 501c3 status
  • The disadvantages too!
  • What it takes to make the IRS happy
  • What your state requires
  • Why your organization should consider becoming a nonprofit corporation
  • What is the difference between nonprofit incorporation and tax exemption
  • IRS requirements after you are tax exempt

The webinar Create a Nonprofit for Your Homeschool Community is also helpful.

The webinar is 90 minutes and covers:

  • The difference between a business and a nonprofit
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a nonprofit
  • Forming a board: who can be one it, what do they do, etc.
  • Creating bylaws
  • Drafting a budget
  • Setting up a bank account
  • Forming a nonprofit corporation in your state
  • The timeline to get this all done
  • The expense to accomplish this

Conflict of Interest: Paid Teachers as Board Members in a Homeschool Group

A homeschool leader is concerned about a conflict of interest if she wants to be a board member and paid teacher.

Jessica, who wants to start a homeschool co-op emailed HomeschoolCPA Carol Topp this situation:

“I have a question about the conflict of interest issue. Three ladies and I would like to incorporate to teach classes together and form a co-op. If we are the three board members, then does that mean we cannot profit by also teaching? Do you have any article that clarifies that?”

Listen as Carol explains:

  • The conflict of interest between being on the board and being paid by a nonprofit
  • Inurement and self-dealing
  • Why it is not a good practice for nonprofit to have paid staff also serve as board members.
  • Three options Jessica has:
    • Form a 3-way partnership (a for-profit business)
    • Have a separate, independent board that hires teachers as staff
    • Grow the board so the majority is not paid teachers

Featured Product

In the podcast I mentioned my webinar Create a Nonprofit for Your Homeschool Community

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a nonprofit?

Forming a board: who can be one it and what do they do?

How hard is it?
What are the steps to take?
How fast can it get it done?
How much will it cost?

I have recorded a webinar to answer all these questions and more!

Create a Nonprofit Organization for Your Homeschool Community

San Antonio, Austin and Houston: Q&A with HomeschoolCPA this week

San Antonio, Austin and Houston, Texas will all be getting live Q&A time this week with Carol Topp, CPA, the Homeschool CPA!

San Antonio: Tuesday February 25, 2020
from 7:00 to 8:30 pm
on the lovely grounds of
Family Educators Alliance of South Texas (FEAST)
7735 Mockingbird Lane • San Antonio, TX • 78229
Register here for San Antonio

Austin: Wednesday February 26, 2020
from 6:30-9:15 pm
at
Calvary Worship Center (North Austin, close to TX 45 & N Mopac Expy)
14901 Burnet Road
Austin, TX 78728 
More information and to RSVP for Austin

Houston: Thursday February 27, 2020
from 6:30-9:15 pm
at
University Baptist Church  (Chapel area)
16106 Middlebrook Dr
Houston, TX 77059  
More information and to RSVP for Houston

Each event is free, but the organizers would appreciate you register so they have a head count.

The San Antonio event is sponsored by Family Educators Alliance of South Texas and the Austin and Houston events are sponsored by Texas Homeschool Coalition with much appreciation!


Each event will have:

  • A brief session presented by Carol Topp, CPA, the HomeschoolCPA on “Topp Tips for Running a Homeschool Organization”
  • A Town Hall session for you to ask question and get advice from other homeschool leaders
  • Q&A time with Carol Topp, CPA
  • Professional advice on finances, legal structures, taxes, employees, insurance, etc.
  • A chance to look at HomeschoolCPA’s books
  • An opportunity to be encouraged by other leaders who understand you!

I hope to see you in San Antonio, Austin or Houston!

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders