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Galesburg School District Endeavors To Offer Students 'As Free As Possible' Education

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Galesburg District 205
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The Galesburg Marching Streaks competed at State of Illinois Marching Band Championships at Illinois State University in 2019. Galesburg District 205 eliminated student participation fees two years ago as part of an effort to make public education "as free as possible."

Galesburg District 205 is buying school supplies for all its students this year.

It's part of a broader drive to eliminate barriers in the district by eliminating costs. Superintendent Dr. John Asplund says community conversations about increasing equity for students and families four years ago sparked the change in philosophy.

"We have heard from parents that they're excited that we're not having to buy the supplies, as well. So we feel like we're doing what we want the community asked us to do when they started talking to us four years ago about these things," he said.

Asplund says Galesburg 205 eliminated registration and participation fees two years ago. The district also provides free meals to all students as part of the federal Community Eligibility Program.

"I feel like we're trying to provide what the Illinois Constitution says, which is a free education," said Asplund. "So we're doing everything we can to make it as free as humanly possible."

He said a shrinking number of families were able to pay registration and extracurricular participation fees.

"And so, as we looked at the declining number of people that were actually even eligible to pay the fees, and we looked at the cost-benefit analysis of actually continuing down that path, we decided that you know what, we're going to do everything we can to try to make sure the school is free," he said.

Asplund said about 70 percent of students were on free or reduced lunches prior to the CEP program which now provides free breakfast and lunches for all students.

For other districts looking to follow Galesburg's model, Asplund said the challenge isn't doing something similar for a year, but sustaining it over an extended period.

"If anybody knows anything about school funding in Illinois, it's difficult to project many years out because state support kind of comes and goes," he said. "But for the near foreseeable future for us, we felt like it was something we could absolutely do beyond this year."

Asplund acknowledged Galesburg's model may be more difficult to follow for districts receiving less state support, and thus more heavily dependent on fees to balance the books.

The district still charges fees for student parking at Galesburg High School, and for behind-the-wheel driver's education classes. But other programs cost students and their families nothing up front.

"You don't have to pay to have food here. You don't have to pay to register. You don't have to pay for your supplies. You know, we're trying to do everything we can to remove every conceivable barrier for all of our families and children so that they can come to school every day ready to succeed," said Asplund. "And I really feel like we know we're on the cusp of some really great things here in District 205."

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