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Leon's new children's services council has named its first grantees, raising eyebrows around who got funding

pre-school kids sitting on the floor with their hands raised in the air

The Children’s Services Council of Leon County has doled out its first wave of funding since voters approved its creation two years ago. The first round of grantees have programs complying with the mandate, but some observers are questioning the council’s decision to award money to organizations that appear to be new or untested.

The council released the grantees alongside a list of scores and metrics it used to make the awards. Many of the names are familiar and have been working in children’s services for a long time. Like the Oasis Center for Girls, 2-1-1 Big Bend, the Lemoyne Center for the Arts, and the Boys and Girls Clubs. Other organizations appear to be brand new, or not as familiar—something council member and Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna asked of the council’s director, Ceka Rose Green.

“Did we vet these organizations?" Hanna asked. "Some of these I know, some of these, I have no idea. And were there any restrictions on what type of agencies could apply or not apply? Could religious-based organizations apply?"

The CSC's Executive Director Ceka Rose Green said "there were no restrictions."

The list of grantees quickly circulated on social media after first being highlighted by the progressive-aligned blog Our Tallahassee—which pointed out the business-backed Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce received a $92,000 for youth development, specifically, to expand the capacity of its jobs and internship website and hire people to run it. The Chamber also oversees Youth Leadership Tallahassee and World Class Schools, a partnership with the Leon School District.

“There are some good organizations that do great work for children in our community. Some of them got funded and unfortunately, some good organizations did not receive funding," said City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow. "There are a couple entities that really stuck out. The Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce really stuck out because I’m not sure they’ve ever been a children’s services provider."

Matlow is not a fan of the chamber, having clashed with it on many occasions. Matlow also opposed the creation of the CSC, and he worries the inclusion of the chamber may discourage traditional social services providers from applying in the future.

“This was pitched as a tax to help the most vulnerable children in our community," Matlow said of the CSC. " It’s not their [the chamber's] money, it’s for the people and I’m hoping they [the chamber] hear the message, reject the funding, and go fund their program somewhere else," he said.

When asked who could apply, Green said the CSC "didn’t discriminate according to the type of organization but rather had independent evaluators look at the programming.”  

The money for the summer is meant to support activities for children outside of school and to help close gaps, said Green. The money was rolled out quickly in order for organizations to serve more kids at a time when school isn’t in session and parents are scrambling to find summer programs. Green said the council sought groups that could help kids in different areas of the county, and that awards weren’t based on overall application scores, but on the way a group's funding request was rated on three of five scoring categories. That resulted in a diverse group of organizations that got funding.

“So what we ended up with was a cross-section of programs and entities that go from small non-profits, all the way up to the business community. And quite frankly, that’s what we envisioned: bringing everyone together to address the issues that have plagued our children, youth, and families," said Green.

A more complicated problem is the coordination of services and providers. There’s not a one-stop site that can act as a repository, leaving people who may need assistance, scrambling and relying heavily on word-of-mouth referrals. The council said Green, wants to change that. It'll take time. And patience.

“We are new. Brand new. I think our first process went well, but it absolutely is a learning process. It gives us the ability to refine the process, look at our priority areas and ensure we’re going to be on a journey that obtains the outcomes we’re hoping to achieve," Green said.

In 2020 66% of Leon voters approved an extra property tax to fund and create the council. It has a stated goal of improving early education readiness, children's health, and providing nutritional assistance. The tax is expected to generate about $8 million a year. There will be another round of funding expected to roll out in the fall. Green says there will be changes to the application process and the funding criteria based on the feedback the council is getting now.

Updated: June 3, 2022 at 10:02 AM EDT
Story updated to include more information about the Chamber's youth programs and reflect that money has not officially gone out from the CSC, yet.