You are thinking about running a homeschool cooperative (co-op)! Congratulations, this might just turn out to be one of the most fun things you ever do in your homeschool mom career. It could also be one of the toughest. Before you embark on this journey stop and take the time to consider these sometimes practical and other times zany questions.
- Who is this co-op intended for? In marketing we might call this your target audience. Co-ops can be geared toward Christian families, outdoor nature loving families, sports orientated families, those passionate about science or math. Perhaps your co-op will assist with academics and you’ll be putting rigorous classes together. Maybe your co-op will be more about getting friends together for fun extra-curricular activities.
- Where will your co-op meet? Finding a meeting place can often be an obstacle but knowing what kind of co-op you intend to have will help. An outdoor nature co-op will likely want to find a place with lots of woods and trails readily available with perhaps a shelter nearby for inclement weather. A rigorous academic co-op will probably seek out a more traditional classroom type environment.
- Who will help you run your co-op? If your co-op is more than just a few families you’ll likely want to think about establish a team of leaders who can work together to create things like by-laws and policies and procedures and make general decisions. You’ll need a plan for recruiting other moms (or perhaps outside people) to teach the classes. Someone will need to take charge of the finances. You may need to consider things like declaring yourself a non-profit, opening bank accounts, and investing in liability insurance.
- Speaking of opening bank accounts and finances, what are the tax implications for starting an organization like this? You’ll likely need to research both state and federal tax laws and consult with an accountant to make sure you’ve got all of your ducks in a row when it comes to money.
- What will it cost? How much will you need to charge for membership dues and classes? I’ve personally seen co-ops that cost next to nothing all the way up to several hundreds of dollars per child. The answer to this question will depend in part on whether you are paying rent for your meeting facility and how much your insurance costs. If your teachers are all volunteer parents you’ll likely be able to keep costs lower than if you bring in outside experts.
- How often will you meet and how long will your day be? What will a typical day look like? What will your schedule be? How long will each class run? How long will a semester be? What will your yearly calendar look like? Co-ops often meet weekly or bi-weekly sometimes for the entire day or just the afternoon or morning. The requirements and availability of your meeting space will likely weigh heavily on your answers to this question.
- What do your state laws say about homeschooling and co-ops. In my state of Connecticut there are no laws explicitly about co-ops however we do have to be careful not to create something that begins to resemble what the state might consider a private school. If we meet several times a week for most of the year we do run that risk. The state might require us to either comply with state laws for private schools or shut down. Please do your research in this area before you pour blood, sweat, and tears into your co-op.
- How much will this mean to you and your family? Whether you have a small co-op with just a few families meeting at your own home a couple of times a month or a large co-op with dozens and dozens of families meeting in the classroom space of a big church running a co-op takes time, effort, and dedication. Once you jump in you’ll have other families and children depending on you to carry through. It can be an amazing and wonderful experience and often a wild ride. How dedicated can you be?
Running a co-op can be an amazing experience. The people you can meet, the experiences you can have, the learning together as a group can all be tremendous blessings. Co-ops can make fantastic communities for your homeschool. The effort can really be worth the reward. If you’ve got a great idea for co-op I say jump in head first. There may be a lot to learn along the way but it will be a grand adventure.
Thank you to Crystal @ Crystal Starr for this article.