JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — East Tennessee State University’s pharmacy school will receive $2.5 million annually in state funding now that the state legislature has approved a recurring appropriation for a school that has been privately funded since it opened in 2005.
The Tennessee Senate voted 33-0 early Thursday afternoon to approve a final budget for the fiscal 2024 year that begins July 1. The ETSU Gatton College of Pharmacy funding was an amendment late in the budget process and marks the first time the state budget has included money for the privately funded school.
Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) moved an amendment to the education budget that passed through the education committee, telling News Channel 11 via text message shortly after full passage Thursday: “This is certainly a historic appropriation.”
Crowe said his effort “was strongly supported by representative Hicks, Alexander, Gary Hicks and other members of our delegation,” referring to Washington County Republican House members Tim Hicks and Rebecca Alexander and Rogersville Republican House member Gary Hicks.
“It’s great for our region,” Crowe’s counterpart in the Senate, Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) said. “Gatton is recognized across the state and nation.”
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved an identical budget Wednesday, so the Senate’s vote makes it official for a school that has struggled with enrollment issues since the 2019-2020 academic year. Those struggles coincide with a state injection of recurring money for the state’s other public-school affiliated pharmacy college at the Memphis.
The Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy is funded solely through tuition. While it bears ETSU’s name, it receives no state funding. ETSU got approval for the College of Pharmacy on the condition that it receives no state funding.
According to state budget documents, the money is recurring, meaning it could become an annual allocation.
The funding is part of budget amendments that passed through the House appropriations process.
That funding was not included in Gov. Bill Lee’s original budget request, something that disappointed Gatton College of Pharmacy officials who’ve lobbied the state for financial assistance for years in hopes of reducing the cost of tuition.
The College of Pharmacy has seen enrollment steadily decline because of comparatively high tuition.
Earlier this year, Gatton College of Pharmacy Dean Debbie Byrd said the funding request was about $5.1 million, the amount needed to put tuition costs at Gatton on par with UT’s College of Pharmacy in Memphis.
The budget will be voted on in the Senate Thursday.
Late Wednesday, Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) told News Channel 11 he’s optimistic the budget will pass with the appropriation intact.