Project Grad alum worried about future of program

Local News

Project Grad stands to lose $1 million if a proposed Knox County Schools budget it passed. The board was set to vote Wednesday night, but they decided to postpone it until a special called meeting before regularly scheduled workshop on April 30.

More: Knox County school board postpones vote on proposed budget

The proposed changes and cuts are an effort to close a multi-million dollar budget gap. Project Grad  has worked to increase graduation rates in Knox County Schools for the past 17-years.

Previous story: Hundreds oppose proposed budget cuts at marathon school board meeting

A picture from graduation day means so much to Michael Tarrant. He’s the first in his family to graduate from the University of Tennessee, but before college he graduated from Austin-East. Today he’s years into his career and says Project Grad helped him on this path.

“Maya Angelou said that people won’t remember what you said, they won’t remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. People make you feel a certain way and Project Grad really empowered me and gave me a sense of self worth to go out and pursue my dreams,” said Tarrant.

He says hearing news that $1 million a year in funding could be cut from this beloved program is confusing, frustrating and angering. 

“Roll your sleeves up, let’s get our hands dirty and try to come out with a better product and it’s definitely sad to see that’s not the approach when it comes to Project Grad,” he said.

This alum has advice to school board members as they get closer to taking a final vote.

“Don’t refer to a piece of paper, don’t refer to some number or a part of some formula. That they don’t take heed to a stack of papers and a report that just has a bunch of different names and numbers,” said Tarrant.

Instead, he’s hoping they think of students like him.

“I think the good that it has done stands tall and I think the possibility of the good that can continue is bright,” added Tarrant.

Project Grad leaders say they’re hopeful that the board of education will vote to fully fund the program.

“We’re confident in the school board’s commitment to meeting the needs of all students including the specific needs of children in Knox County’s most vulnerable communities,” said Project Grad leaders in a statement.

Project Grad works through a public-private partnership. Funding comes from both the school system and private donors. Each year, $1.5 million is given to the program from generous people in the community.

Since Project Grad started, donors have provided more than $32 million a s a way to support students.

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