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Education

Tax From Illinois Marijuana Sales Fund Educational Services In East St. Louis

The Griffin Center After School Program was an East St. Louis community organization that facilitated virtual learning for some students in the city while education was fully remote. The center is now expanding its programming because of a grant from Illinois.
Rici Hoffarth
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The Griffin Center After School Program was an East St. Louis community organization that helped virtual learning for some students in the city while education was fully remote. The center is now expanding its programming because of a grant from Illinois.

EAST ST. LOUIS — After initial delays, tax dollars from cannabis sales in Illinois are now starting to flow to East St. Louis in the form of a grant bolstering programs to help students.

The money comes from the state’s Restore, Reinvest and Renew program, known as R3, whose funds come from 25% of the tax revenue from recreational marijuana.

Six East St. Louis organizations applied with the help of the United Way of Greater St. Louis for $829,240 to expand their services for youth across the city. Their award was part of $31.5 million the state announced went to 80 nonprofit organizations and governmental bodies in January.

The tax funding for community organizations was a key part of passing legislation to legalize marijuana.

“The children in this community need this funding,” said Toni Muhammad, executive director for Catholic Urban Programs, which will receive $168,850 from the grant.

The award enhances Catholic Urban Program’s offerings at its partner organization, the Griffin Center After School Program, from purchasing new supplies and equipment to adding staff and expanding hours.

“We haven’t had advocates in the school setting like we would have liked,” said Henrietta Young, the center’s director. “Now we’re looking for an educational advocate who will go into the schools, speak with the teachers and then see why our kids are not doing well in certain subject areas.”

They’re also considering hiring a counselor for three of the center’s locations and opening up an additional site in the city all because of the grant award, she said.

The center currently serves about 350 children from six of the city’s public housing developments, Young said.

“They come in with their Chromebooks, and we have staff who support them in their learning,” she said. “They try to make it fun because they’ve been working all day at school and working with the textbooks.”

Staff primarily focuses on math and reading skills, but they also help develop social and emotional sides of the children with structured play, Young said.

It’s significant that Illinois chose to support this kind of programming, especially after the coronavirus highlighted many inequities, Muhammad said.

Even with a delay in the state dispersing funding, the center still expanded its hours to accommodate virtual learning earlier in the year, which wouldn’t have been possible without the award, she said.

“This is a safe place for the children,” she said. “They have identified Griffin Center and its staff as a support system for them.”

Muhammad stressed the other organizations in the R3 grant are also expanding their after school programming.

“Especially in East St. Louis, it’s better to work as the collective than individual organizations to make the greatest impact for the children,” she said.

There will be more R3 opportunities in the future as Illinois’ recreational marijuana industry expands. The state plans to distribute up to $125 million in grants each year depending on the growth of the cannabis market.

Muhammad expects Catholic Urban Programs and the other organizations involved in this year’s grant will seek further funding in the future.

“We don’t start programming that we don’t want to continue,” she said. “Once we make this investment in the children, in the community, we want to continue.”

Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

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