Topeka — Steve Woolf, a school superintendent in Neosho County, said his jaw hit the table when he learned that Gov. Sam Brownback was going to use welfare funds to pay for a reading program directed at grade-school students in southeast Kansas.
"I'm against taking food from people who are in need and are hungry," said Woolf, who leads the Erie-Galesburg school district, which has about 550 students. "It is morally wrong," he said.
Brownback recently announced a plan to take $12 million from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program and use those federal dollars to try to raise fourth-grade reading scores.
TANF funds are typically used to provide cash assistance to families in poverty.
But the administration has said the reading program is an appropriate use of TANF funds because studies show girls who read at grade level are less likely to become unwed mothers, which is a goal of the TANF program as a strategy to reduce poverty.
"I want to see us break the cycle of child poverty," Brownback said.
Brownback has joined forces with the charity Save the Children, which already has in place a reading program in Pittsburg, and the Rural School and Community Trust to assist in the program in several school districts in southeast Kansas.
Woolf's district wasn't one of those included in the initiative.
"We didn't get a call or anything," he said.
But Woolf said had the district been chosen, he would have turned it down because the funds are being diverted from TANF.
Woolf said Brownback should have consulted educators with the Kansas Department of Education before embarking on this proposal.
"It would be like the governor wanting to do something different with the Statehouse dome and saying, 'I have a buddy in Oklahoma who put a new roof on his garage and he seems to know what he is doing,' " Woolf said.
Woolf said he is a Republican, as is Brownback, and a past admirer of the governor's.
Back in the mid-1980s, Woolf, then a student at Kansas State, served with Brownback on the board of the Flint Hills Breadbasket, which distributed food to the poor.
"He was a young lawyer and caring about people," Woolf said about Brownback.
He said as he followed Brownback's career, he cheered him on, but now he said the governor is a politician "not a statesman."