Nonprofit “Virtual School District” Offers Buying Power toHome School Families

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EMERAL HILLS, CA– Thousands of public school districts across the country flexed their size over the summer as they leveraged buying power when purchasing books and other supplies in preparation for the new school year. They are able to take advantage of deep discounts because they buy mass quantities of school supplies and books.

As the countdown to the beginning of the traditional school year continues, purchasing supplies and books is an entirely different story for families that intend to homeschool this fall.

Although there are 1.5 million home schooled students, each home school typically has only one or two students. A minor blip on the radar of school supply and book distributors, home school families lack aggregate buying power and are forced to pay top dollar. That’s changing thanks to the Homeschool Buyers Co-op, a virtual school district for home schooling families.

Founded in 1995 by a group of homeschool families, the nonprofit Homeschool Buyers Co-op is now more than 42,000 strong and provides its members access to the best curriculum at the lowest possible prices. Best of all, membership in the Co-op is completely free.

“We’re the closest thing to a school district for homeschool families,” Brett Walter, founder of the Homeschool Buyers Co-op, said. “We harness the buying power of our members to give them access to award-winning products at affordable prices.”

Like most co-ops, low prices are a big benefit to members of the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. The list price, for example, of the Kaplan SAT online preparation program is $400. To give its members a better price, the Co-op put together a buying group to purchase a district license – something the Co-op terms a “Group Buy” – and thereby made the program available to members for $49. In addition to substantial savings on the cost of many products, Walter said that the Co-op offers products high quality products that are not otherwise available directly to home school families.

“The PLATO® Learning system is an excellent product that thousands of school districts purchase every year,” Walter said. “However, it’s not available directly to homeschooling families. Functioning similarly to a traditional school district, the Co-op purchased a school license and is making PLATO Learning available to our members.”

“There are many other examples of products, such as the popular SkillsTutor from Houghton Mifflin and Aha!Math from Learning.com, that are not sold directly to consumers are available to Co-op members because we have purchased school or district licenses on their behalf,” he added. “To the companies that market the curriculum materials, the Co-op looks like any other large school system. It’s a win-win situation for the distributors of the products and for members of the Co-op.”

In addition to books and study guides, the Homeschool Buyers Co-op offers electronic field trips, math software, educational videos from Discovery Education® and even a full K-12 curriculum that is exclusively available to home schools through the Co-op. The Co-op has established partnerships with more than 100 publishers, including both Christian and secular companies, large and small alike.

The Homeschool Buyers Co-op also offers close-out curriculum materials at significantly reduced prices. For example, the Co-op recently offered VHS tapes at 75 percent off discounts to its members because the company that distributes the tapes was selling off its VHS inventory as part of a conversion to an all-DVD format.

Many Co-op members take advantage of its SmartPoints program. Members receive 100 SmartPoints when they join the Co-op and have various ways to add to their SmartPoints balance. When their balance is large enough they can use their SmartPoints to buy curricula from the Co-op, effectively for free.

“We are a nonprofit service to the homeschooling public who seek high quality and affordable curriculum. In most cases, we are able to come up with some pretty spectacular savings, in fact, our average discount is probably around 50 percent,” Walter said. “If we can’t offer a learning product at a significant discount, we don’t offer it at all.”