Senate Education Committee votes to restore funding for York Institute

Contact:  Darlene Schlicher (615) 741-6336 or email at [email protected]

(NASHVILLE, TN), March 3, 2010 — The Senate Education Committee today voted to restore state funding for York Institute, a 700-student high school located in Fentress County.  The action came after Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), who represents Fentress County in the State Senate, urged committee members to keep the commitment made 85 years ago to World War I hero Sargent Alvin York to fund the school he struggled to build.

The York Institute funding was cut by Governor Phil Bredesen’s 2010-2011 budget, which was presented to the General Assembly on February 1.  Until the budget was presented, school officials and Fentress County officials were not aware of the impending cuts.

“I am very pleased that the committee heard our voice today and voted to restore funding for this school,” said Senator Yager.  “We do not want to be the General Assembly that pulls the plug on this school, which was Sargent York’s dream for rural education.  Tennessee made a commitment to fund the school in 1925 and since that time it has been a model institution bearing his name through 14 governors and 64 General Assemblies.”

Yager questioned State Commissioner Tim Webb regarding the state’s plan to transition the school.  The budget would become effective on July 1, which Fentress County officials say does not provide adequate time for a transition to occur if the funds are cut.

“I don’t have a solid transition plan,” said Commissioner Webb.  “This conversation has been an ongoing conversation since the budget document was produced.”

The committee also heard from Edward York, the son of Sargent York, who said his father laid the posts for the school to realize his dream for a quality education for rural Tennessee students and mortgaged his house to pay teacher salaries.  He pointed out that funding for the school went through many lean years in Tennessee history, including the Great Depression.

According to Principal Phil Brannon, the school has a high success rate with 90 percent of students who move on to enroll in college and a 73 percent college retention rate.  The school has a satellite campus of Roane State Community College on the York Institute property, which helps students who are dually enrolled receive college credit.

In addition, the committee heard from Mike Jones, Superintendent of Fentress County Schools regarding the inability of the county to immediately raise funds to make up the $2.3 million it would take to serve students enrolled in York Institute.  Jones said the county has the second worst unemployment rate in the state at 16 percent, giving the county few options to raise needed funds.  He said the county’s unemployment rate could be as high as 30 percent if you count those who are still without employment, but who are no longer eligible to receive unemployment benefits. 

 “The proposed cuts would result in great financial hardship for residents of Fentress County who would, without warning, would have to take in these students at a time when citizens are suffering from high unemployment and job loss,” added Yager.  “We will continue to fight to keep the funding in place as it would be short-sighted to break this time-honored agreement which has very successfully showcased rural education in our state.” 

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