Lessons learned from a homeschool co-op

August 29, 2009

Faye, a homeschool mom and columnist for the DC Examiner.com, has a list of lessons she learned while being in two homeschool co-ops this year.

When we joined two homeschool co-ops last year, it completely changed our homeschooling life.  For one thing, I had to be sure not to plan anything else on co-op days, because we were already busy.  Sometimes this made scheduling field trips a little tricky, but the juggling was well worth the effort.  Another big change was that on co-op days, we all had to get up at a scheduled (earlier!) time, so that we could be out the door on time. We aren’t big morning people around here, but I think the change did us good.  And finally, it brought more friendship and support into our family and into our lives, which was perhaps the biggest blessing of all!  There were many other things that I learned, and I thought it would be fun to share a few of them:

1.  Kids who are not used to daily “school” may not always have pencils, pens, or paper.  Be sure to bring extra!

2.  No matter how hard you wish, if your co-op is exactly 18 minutes from your house, you will not be able to get there in 10 minutes.  Leave early (or at least on time).

3.  Even if you are the “teacher”, sometimes you will be late (refer to #2 for the solution to this problem)

4.  A big roll of paper and a box of crayons are indispensable for keeping little ones occupied.  The paper may come in handy for other uses (see #1).

5.  You probably already know this, but kids NEED time to run around outdoors.  If your co-op doesn’t have access to an outdoor space, try to find a way for the kids to take a walk or play some indoor games.  Getting the wiggles out is very important.

More of Fay’s lessons learned coming soon.

Meanwhile, if you would like to learn more about starting or running aHSCo-opsCover

homeschool co-op, order my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out.

Carol Topp, CPA

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Should a co-op be a separate organization?

August 17, 2009

Carol,

We have one entity (group) that works outside of our association, this is our checkbook2Co-op group. This group does take in money – I believe it’s run out of a separate bank account. I know our Co-op group has a board, and bylaws but not an EIN number, which I know is very easy to get. What are they benefits of us staying as one group? My question is: should our Co-op group run their funds separately like this?

Sandy in TX

Sandy,

Your co-op could be organized as under your association or as a separate group. It’s really up to you. Since they have their own separate board and bylaws, perhaps they are really operating as a separate unincorporated association already. You could be officially separate if they obtain their own Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

There might be advantages to staying as one group. There are fewer volunteers for the board positions, consolidated financial reports, and shared workload. The co-op could remain a part of your organization, but with a separate checking account and its own budget. It could be self-sustaining financially, but still part of your association. Many church-run schools operate like this, financially self-sufficient, but still under the umbrella of the church.

Carol Topp, CPA


Planning a Homeschool Co-op

July 10, 2009

Faye, a homeschool mom and columnist for the DC Examiner.com, has a great list to help start a homeschool co-op (edited slightly for brevity):

Although it is wonderful to be able to plan lessons, activities and programs that best meet your child’s needs, sometimes banding together with other homeschoolers can be a huge blessing!  Planning a homeschool co-op is a large undertaking, but with some good people and a strong foundation, it can benefit you and your family in many ways. Whether you want to have a group for regular field trips, or you are looking for a way to provide some structured school time in a group setting, a homeschool co-op could be just the ticket.

If you are interested in starting your own homeschool co-op, I would like to offer some suggestions.

1.  Start with your homeschool support group and friends.  Who would be willing to help you get things started?  2-5 people is a good number for a planning group (more than that and it might seem impossible to find a time when everyone can meet!).

2.  Spend some time brainstorming about what the “ideal co-op” would be.  Would you meet once a week, or every morning?  Will the group be for just a certain age group (ie: only elementary-age)?   Do you want to offer set classes, with textbooks, tests, homework, etc?  Or perhaps something more relaxed, like clubs and projects?

3.  Once the group has ironed out a general idea of what the first year could look like, you will need to find a place to meet.  This may prove to be one of the most daunting tasks!  Try the local library or community center, a church or firehouse, or maybe even an empty business.

4.  After you have secured a space, it is time to invite homeschooling families to join you!  It can be tempting to hang up flyers and spread the word via homeschool yahoo groups and blogs.  However, a word of caution.  I have heard many, many stories about co-ops, and the one thing that resonates over and over again is the importance of having a group of like-minded people.  Now, that doesn’t mean that you all have to believe in the same things–far from it!  At our co-op, we enjoy having new points of view for the kids to consider.  However, if it is important that the co-op be Christian-based, that might not be a good match for someone who is agnostic.

5.  For your co-op to grow and thrive, people have to be willing to work together, to pitch in, and to get along.  It is an “army of volunteers”, and if the adults/kids don’t get along, the co-op will suffer and perhaps never get off the ground.

6.  Once you have a location and a few families have indicated interest–YEAH–you are in business!!  Meet with your planning group and decide what classes/clubs/projects you want to offer.  Some ideas to choose from:

  • Art/drawing
  • Science
  • History
  • Foreign language
  • Physical education

7.  Finalize which classes you will offer, decide on a start date, then work out registration details and fees.  If there is a fee to use your facility, all families will need to divide that expense. Many facilities will also want you to carry a separate insurance policy (for one local co-op, it is @$35.00/family/year.)

8.  Do an Internet search to find forms you may need/want to have (registration, emergency info, family info, student info, etc.)  The planning group can share these tasks so no one person feels burdened.

9.  Plan a park day for families to meet, get everyone registered, order your materials, and you’re on your way!

10.  You might also consider getting a website set-up exclusively for your co-op.  Homeschool-Life.com offers a low/no-cost website service for homeschoolers, and it allows you to have group registration, to use message boards, to provide event reminders, etc.

11.  Be sure that everyone who chooses to participate is willing to help with some aspect of the group, whether it is teaching a class, cleaning up, watching the little ones, or helping as needed.  “Many hands make work light” is certainly a true statement when it comes to a homeschool co-op!

12.  Resist the urge to “do everything” in your first year.  It will be tempting to do this, believe me!  Try to offer just a few things to the group (no more than four).  See how that works out, ask for feedback, and your group can grow from there.

It is a tremendous amount of work to get a co-op up and running, but the rewards cannot be overstated.  As the group grows and expands, your kids will have incredible opportunities for learning, friendships, and fun!  If you have experiences with, or suggestions for a homeschool co-op, please share them in the “comments” section below.  I am sure there are many good ideas right here in our own community!HSCo-opsCover

Faye might be right that it is work to start a homeschool co-op, but there is help.  My book Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out will walk you through the start up and  running your group.

Also my website www.HomeschoolCPA.com has many helpful articles on starting a group, getting a checking account and buying insurance.

You can do it! Just get some help from those who have gone before you!

Carol Topp, CPA


Returning co-op supplies to parents

July 6, 2009
Carol,
logosI wanted to ask you how your homeschool co-op handles classes where there are nonconsumable items purchased.  We had a class where kits were purchased for a LEGO class.  Students shared kits so we charged a lesser fee.  Now people think they should get half of the kits (kinda silly because there is only one motor) or that future classes in future years should have to pay and they receive a credit each time.  We have never done that with any classes in the past.  It has always just become property of the co-op.  It sounds like it would be a bookkeeping nightmare otherwise.
Thanks for your input.
Becky P in KY

Becky,

You’re right, the logo kits sound like a bookkeeping nightmare.  I like to keep things simple, but as fair as possible.

We had a similar situation in my homeschool co-op with Spanish books.  The teacher bought a curriculum to use and was planning on spreading out the cost of the teacher manuals and CDs over two years of students. It took some guess work to figure out how many students she would have this year as well as future years.  In the end we decided  that this year’s students would end up paying for a portion of the teachers books and CDs.  The rest of the cost was absorbed by the co-op as a whole. The co-op then owned the teacher books and CDs. Future Spanish classes were charged a small supply fee so that the co-op could recoup the cost of the teachers books and CDs.

In summary I think the co-op should own non consumables, not the individual parents. Sounds like that’s how you have done it in the past. Parents pay a supply fee, but are not entitled to the equipment afterward nor a credit from future students.
Carol Topp, CPA



Fine line betwen a homeschooling group and running a private school

May 17, 2009
Dear Carol –
While searching for help in beginning homeschooling, I came across your website.  What a relief!  I am considering homeschooling for the 2009-2010 school year, and I don’t really know where to begin.  I live in Ohio.  I have certification in Ohio to teach in a non-tax supported school. I would be team teaching in my home with one, and possibly two, other mothers.  We would be teaching our own children, as well as children from one other family in which the parents both work.  There would be 7-9 children.  My children would be in 4th and 2nd grades.  I would be teaching the children in 8th and 9th grades, and possibly teaching part time the 4th grade children.
I have so many questions!  Is this legal?  Do we need to establish an organization (and if so, what kind?), or is notifying the school district enough?  What are some resources to help me get started?

Thank you!
Faye T in Ohio
Faye,
I read your e-mail with some interest.  Homeschooling can have so many different variations. What you are proposing is quite unique.Potential hazards: I think what you are proposing is legal, but has potential hazards. You will have to disclose the other teachers on your annual Ohio notification form.  The form asks if someone other than the parent will be homeschooling your child.

As for what type of organization to set up, it probably depends on how the otheHSCo-opsCoverr parents view this arrangement and your future plans.  Do they see this as your business and you are a hired tutor?  Or are you just a group of friends gathered to help each other, more like an informal play group?  Perhaps you have a vision of outgrowing your home in a year or two and should establish this as a nonprofit co-op. Then my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out would be helpful.

Limit the group time: The type of organization to set up (informal, nonprofit or for-profit) also depends on the amount of money trading hands (if any) and the amount of time spent in this shared arrangement. JMHO, but since you are new to homeschooling, I would not recommend that this type of shared teaching take place more than 2 or 3 days a week.  The rest of the time the students need to be learning at home with their parent’s supervising them or the older students working independently.  This would be difficult for theGirl&family working parents, I realize.  With them, you may have a more formal agreement including compensation for your time as a paid tutor.

Have clear, written guidelines: If you are proposing to teach in this arrangement for 5 days a week (i.e, 100% of the children’s school time), then I would caution you to have a clear, written agreement with each family, especially the FT working parents who will not be at your home. In some ways you are running a tiny private school for those children. I would caution you against doing that at this point in your homeschool experience. I would not take on responsibility for some educational duties that belong to the homeschooling parents such as granting a grade or a transcript, awarding high school credit, or even picking the curriculum. You are walking a fine line between homeschooling and running a private school. It can begin to blur and get confusing very quickly.

I hope that gives you some food for thought.  If you need more specific advice on establishing this as a for-profit business, I would be available for a consultation.  We can discuss the pros and cons of for-profit vs nonprofit.

Carol Topp, CPA


Observations from the Midwest Homeschool Convention

April 29, 2009

On April 16-18, 2009 , I attended the Midwest Homeschool Convention here in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

mwhsc-logo-3-inv

I did two workshops, one on Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out (named after my book of the same title) and the other on Micro Business for Teenagers (my upcoming book).

Here are a few of my observations:

Homeschool leaders from across the country all have similar problems:

  • No one wants to work or join the board
  • Older, experienced hoemschool mothes are not coming to meetings
  • There is a need for a clear vision and purpose. Leaders want to be everything to everyone.
  • Policies and bylaws are sorely needed to elect new board members, deal with conflict, and to prevent burnout

Meeting and talking to attorney David Gibbs of the Homeschool Legal Advantage was a highlight.  We look forward to a wonderful working partnership helping homeschool organizations. Individual families have long had access to legal advice, but now there is a need for homeschool groups to have access to legal advice also.

Some homeschool leaders lack business sense. I heard about fund raising disasters, mistakes with charging fees and offering discounts, etc.

Meeting some of my virtual friends in person was fun.  And I’m so sorry that I missed some of you! I was stuck in my booth (I shared a booth with Mary Hood, the Relaxed Homeschooler) and didn’t get out much.

Here were some of the questions that were asked during the Homeschool Co-ops workshop:

  • What does your co-op charge? Is it by student or by family?
  • How often does your co-op meet? How long each time?
  • Do you interview potential members?
  • How do we ensure everyone is like minded?
  • How can we encourage members to help out more?
  • Do you group grades/ages in your co-op?
  • What classes do you offer?
  • Ho do you “fire” a volunteer?
  • How do you elect a new baord?
  • Can a co-op keep the same director/leader forever?
  • Why collect a registration fee?
  • Where do you meet for co-op classes?
  • What is a typical rental fee?

Aren’t those great questions? I’ll work on answering them on this blog in the future.

I will also be presenting this workshop and several others at the Home Educators Association of Virginia convention  June 11-13.  Stop by my booth and say hello if you attend the convention!

heavlogo

Carol Topp, CPA


Government Intrusion and 501c3 Tax Exempt Status

February 19, 2009

Michele in Colorado e-mailed me with an excellent question on government intrusion into 501c3 organizations:

Hi Carol,

I am part of a homeschool group in Canon City, CO.  We are trying to figure out what we are to do financially next year.  We do not have a non -profit status and most people in our group do not want to organize that much.  Some of the people in our group have had some experiences with 5013C status that the government has made them open their group up to individuals that they would not normally allow in their group because they are a government entity (like permitting someone not in our faith to teach a class).

Thank you so much for your help to the homeschool community and for whatever answers you can give us.

Sincerely,
Michelle P

Michelle,
Good for you in wanting to make sure that you are doing things properly in your homeschool group.

Your people are mistaken. Receiving 501c3 tax exempt status does NOT make your organization a government entity; it simply means that you are exempt from paying income tax on your profit and donors can make tax-deductible contributions.  It’s a tax status.  501c3 status does NOT mean you  must open up your group. No way!  We still have religious freedom in American and freedom to assemble.  Someone is greatly misinformed.  You are certainly free to choose your members and choose who teaches a class. Does a Catholic school have to allow non-Catholics teach their classes?  Of course not!

bsa_emblemsvgThe Boy Scouts won a very important Supreme Court case in 2000 allowing them to exclude homos*xual men from being Boy Scout leaders. Read about it here. Your group is free to exclude certain people from membership. It’s a basic American right called freedom of assembly.

God Bless America!

Carol Topp, CPA