Brownback proposes grade-school reading initiative; advocacy groups decry funding method

November 14, 2013, 10:37 a.m. Updated: 14 November 2013, 10:37 a.m.

— A new proposal by Gov. Sam Brownback's administration to try to improve reading proficiency among grade-school students is under fire from children's advocates because of the way it is funded.

The plan would use funds from a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. These federal funds are designed to help poor families achieve self-sufficiency.

The Brownback administration has proposed using funds from TANF to increase reading scores.

When he ran for governor in 2010, Brownback said improving fourth-grade reading scores was one of his major goals and that voters should hold him accountable to it.

But Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said that while improving literacy is important, Brownback shouldn't use TANF dollars.

"As the child poverty rate continues to climb, it doesn't make sense to shift dollars away from struggling families to programs that focus on literacy later in a child's life," Cotsoradis said today.

"TANF dollars are meant to help the lowest-income families in the state when they find themselves in temporary situations in which they are not able to pay for basic needs like food, shelter and utilities," she said.

Theresa Freed, a spokeswoman for DCF, said "reserve funds" from TANF would be used to fund the after-school portion of the program.

She said TANF funds could be used as a way to reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

"Studies show that girls with less-than-average reading skills are more than twice as likely to become teen mothers, compared to their peers with average reading skills," she said.

Brownback scheduled a news conference for later today to unveil his reading plan.

He was to be joined by officials from several school districts and representatives of partner organizations including the Kansas Enrichment Network, Reading Recovery, Save the Children and Kansas University.

The governor's office said the initiative "brings together, for the first time, community organizations sharing the common goal of improving reading proficiency for grade school students. This is a comprehensive effort focused on the needs of both rural and urban students across the state."

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