Sam Zeff

Education Reporter

Sam covers education for KCUR. Before joining the station in August 2014 he covered health and education for KCPT.

Sam began his career at KANU in Lawrence. He hosted Morning Edition at WHYY in Philadelphia where he also covered organized crime, politics and government corruption.

The Overland Park, Kansas native has won a National News and Documentary Emmy for investigative reporting, four Edward R. Murrow awards and four National Headliner Awards.  Sam was assistant news director at the ABC station in the Twin Cities, executive producer at the NBC station in St. Louis and executive producer of special projects at the CBS stations in Minneapolis and Kansas City.

Sam was educated at the University of Kansas.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Olathe Public Schools is facing a $2 million dollar budget deficit this year.

To close most of that, the Kansas district is laying off 80 people.

But the district also is cutting a program for rookie teachers.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

On this week's Statehouse Blend, we look back at the Kansas Legislature's favorite songs and what they meant in the context of the session. It's Statehouse Blend, The Musical.

Guests:

  • C.J. Janovy, Arts Reporter, KCUR
  • Matt Hodapp, Statehouse Blend Producer, KCUR
Sam Zeff / KCUR

The July meeting of the Olathe Public Schools usually has been pro forma, even a little boring, with election of board officers and some statutorily required actions.

But not Thursday night's meeting. The board, three of whom were just elected, got the news that the district has a $2 million deficit and up to 80 layoffs may be needed to close the gap.

MU System

College classes start in about a month but just this week a group of students in Missouri were told their tuition might double and some may lose scholarships.

It’s due to a rule change passed by state lawmakers and could affect hundreds of students.

The rule effects students brought to the U.S. as children and are undocumented because their parents entered the country illegally.

These are the so-called dream children who, in most cases, have spent nearly their entire life in the United States.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Low-income college students got some good news Wednesday from Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

Nixon announced additional money will be directed toward the need-based Access Missouri scholarship program.

At a news conference on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, the governor said Access Missouri serves about 50,000 students at both two- year and four-year institutions.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The chairman of the Kansas Board of Education says the Legislature and others have to show more support for teachers or the exodus of teaching talent to other states will continue.

The board Tuesday heard the annual report on the teaching profession in the state, a report that covers everything from salary to ages.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Erin Davis from Olathe provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 Kansas legislative session. 

You can listen to the full episode of Statehouse Blend here.

Guests:

Mktp / Flickr--CC

For a while, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was saying it was going to be pretty difficult to start offering benefits to same-sex couples who worked for the state following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

It took a few days, but the state finally started granting gay and lesbian couples benefits. But local governments have been quietly offering same-sex benefits for some time.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

The Democratic presidential primary was being fought in Kansas City Monday. 

Three out of five announced candidates – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley – were in town to address the National Conference of La Raza, meeting in Kansas City

Julia Szabo / KCUR

On Tuesday, the Kansas State Board of Education will be presented with some disturbing numbers.

In the past five years, the number of teachers leaving Kansas to teach in other states has steadily grown.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Erin Davis from Olathe provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 Kansas legislative session. 

Guests:

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

On this week's Statehouse Blend, we ask former Kansas legislators to compare and contrast the Kansas legislature then and now.

You can listen to the full episode of Statehouse Blend here.

Guests:

  • Kelly Kultala, Former Senator, 5th District
  • John Vratil, Former Senator, 11th District
  • Tim Owens, Former Senator, 8th District
Julia Szabo / KCUR

In the next couple of years, Kansas education will face some of its most unstable times ever.

The Legislature has cut classroom funding. There’s no school finance formula and the the whole system may be thrown into chaos depending on what the state Supreme Court does.

All of this is all taking a toll on recruiting and retaining teachers, and there's mounting evidence that Kansas teachers are becoming disenchanted. And out-of-state districts are taking advantage.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Since 2000, money that was supposed to be used primarily for early childhood development in Kansas has been repeatedly raided by the Legislature to help balance the state's budget. Now, says Kansas Action for Children in a report released Wednesday, the Kansas Endowment for Youth (KEY) Fund will be almost depleted in two years.

Lauren Manning / Flickr--CC

The state of Kansas is off the hook, for now, for $50 million in back payments to school districts across the state.

Lawyers for the four school districts suing the state, including Kansas City, Kansas, say they expected all along that the order from a three-judge panel in Shawnee County would be stayed by the state Supreme Court.

Late Tuesday evening the high court did just that.

The state appealed last Friday's order from the panel that ordered all back payments to districts be made by Wednesday.

Bigstock

You hear a lot about students being career or college ready — it’s really a rather new way to judge high school success. So new, that there hasn’t been much research about it.

The Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium Tuesday will release its first report on career or college readiness. The report, which will be made available to educators in both Kansas and Missouri, shows data that is not particularly surprising.

Kansas Attorney General's Office

As expected, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt quickly appealed Friday's court ruling finding most of the block grant funding law unconstitutional and ordering the state to make millions of dollars in back payments to school districts by Wednesday.

In a statement, Schmidt said a three-judge Shawnee County District Court panel broke new legal ground with its order, "including attempting to reinstate laws that the Legislature repealed months ago."

The language in the appeal takes the court to task. Schmidt called the order "cynical, calculated and unfortunately political" because the panel "issued its decision on the very day and barely one hour after the Legislature finally adjourned."

Sam Zeff / KCUR

On the 114th and final day of the Kansas legislative session, a court ruling feared by lawmakers and eagerly anticipated by most educators was handed down .

A three-judge Shawnee County District Court panel ruled Friday that block grant school funding, one of the signature issues for conservatives in the Legislature, is unconstitutional.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

On this week's Statehouse Blend, we ask former Kansas legislators to compare and contrast the Kansas legislature then and now.

Guests:

  • Kelly Kultala, Former Senator, 5th District
  • John Vratil, Former Senator, 11th District
  • Tim Owens, Former Senator, 8th District
Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Marvin Kleeb from Overland Park provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session. 

You can listen to the full episode of Statehouse Blend here.

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

If you’ve ever researched schools with the Missouri or Kansas departments of education, you know the websites are comprehensive, but a little hard to wade through.

It took three years for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City to gather the 14 million pieces of data that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Kansas State Department of Education have collected.

Just when things were starting to look a little brighter in the St. Joseph School District, the IRS has stepped into the picture.

On Monday afternoon, the district received notice from the agency saying IRS auditors will be in district headquarters for three days next month examining a wide variety of information.

According to a news release from the district, the IRS will audit documents ranging from board minutes and organizational charts to employment contracts and termination agreements.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Marvin Kleeb from Overland Park provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session. 

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Usually the Kansas Board of Regents has weeks to ponder and discuss how much students will pay in tuition and fees at its six universities. But the 113 day Kansas legislative session has forced those discussions into less than 36 hours.

Higher education leaders in the state agreed to a 3.6 percent tuition cap with lawmakers in exchange for not cutting other state funding to universities.

It didn't get the state of Kansas far in trimming the 2016 budget but higher education, the Board of Regents believes, did its part.

Gov. Sam Brownback held a news conference Tuesday to announce he has signed legislation that will raise the state's sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent. But that still leaves the state short of a balanced budget and many thought Brownback would outline cuts today.

But all he cut was $1.9 million from a Regents program called GED Accelerator. This is money that helps the state's 26 two-year institutions pay for programs that result in students receiving both a GED and an industry-recognized credential. So, a high school drop out could simultaneously finish their secondary education and, for example, earn a welding or mechanics certificate. The money goes to the institutions and not the students.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

On this week's Statehouse Blend, we ask citizens from Kansas to share their thoughts on the 2015 Kansas Legislative session.

Guests:

  • Scott Morgan, Citizen, Lawrence
  • Erin Rivers, Citizen, Mission
  • Will Averill, Citizen, Lawrence
Courtesy photo / KCPS

Kansas City Public Schools has reached inside the district for an interim superintendent to fill the shoes of outgoing Stephen Green.

The school board Wednesday night tapped Chief Financial Officer Al Tunis as interim head of the 15,000-student district.

Green is set to leave the district in a few weeks to go to Georgia. Green spoke with KCUR's Steve Kraske last week about his departure on Up To Date.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

While the broader battle over a tax plan in the Kansas Legislature continues, a few nights ago the Senate managed to slip in a last minute provision that makes it a lot easier to obtain tax credits for private and religious school scholarships in the state.

The mission of the legislation is laudable: provide scholarships to at-risk kids to go to private or parochial schools.

But there's a catch. People or corporations in the state receive a tax credit for providing the scholarship money. The state will allow up to $10 million a year in such credits.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

As a tax plan continues to elude the Kansas House of Representatives, the state is preparing for severe budget cuts in case the Legislature can’t close a $400 million budget hole.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, wanted to know just how badly an across-the-board 6.2 percent budget cut would harm schools.

The answer from the Kansas State Department of Education: $197 million statewide.

Locally, Kansas City, Kansas, schools would lose the most, $10.8 million next year.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Rep. John Wilson from Lawrence provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

This is an excerpt from Statehouse Blend. You can listen to the full episode here.

Guests:

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