Sam Zeff

Education Reporter

Sam covers education for KCUR and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend. 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.

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Orlin Wagner / Associated Press

If you weren’t paying really close attention to the oral arguments in the Gannon v. Kansas school funding case before the Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday, you probably missed a little question from Justice Dan Biles about a provision of the new school funding formula that exclusively benefits two Johnson County districts.

Kansas State University

The starting left tackle for the Kansas State football team came out as gay Thursday during an interview on ESPN.

Sophomore Scott Frantz says he revealed his sexual orientation to his teammates last year after listening to a motivational speaker brought in by Head Coach Bill Snyder.

“I’ve never felt so loved and so accepted ever in my life than when I did that and ever since then it’s been great. I’ve grown so much closer to my teammates since then, so it’s been an amazing experience,” Frantz told ESPN's Holly Rowe.

Kansas State University

What's the best college campus in Kansas for LBGTQ students?

Many might guess the University of Kansas in Lawrence, long considered a progressive bastion.

But according to CollegeChoice.net, the best bet for LGBTQ students in Kansas is in Manhattan, at Kansas State University. K-State ranked as the 45th best choice in the country.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens made a rare stop in Kansas City Wednesday to sign four bills into law.

One measure would start the process of creating four adult high schools around the state to help Missourians over the age of 21 get a high school diploma and job training.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

About 100 firefighters are battling a three-alarm fire at a warehouse on Southwest Boulevard.

Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi says they received calls reporting the fire at Friday’s Only Furniture Outlet at 29th and Southwest Boulevard around 2:30 Tuesday afternoon.

He says by the time crews arrived on scene, the blaze was heavily involved. 

"I arrived on the scene just about seven or eight minutes after it was here, and it was already through the roof. So they knew that it was a defensive fire immediately," Berardi says.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, with the victim's grieving mother at her side, said Monday that a man has been charged with the murder of a 24-year-old east Kansas City woman.

Ashley Geddes was discovered dead in her bedroom by her mother on June 1.

The suspect is 25-year-old Cedrick Russell, who lived next door to the victim on east 45th Place. Russell is also charged with sodomy, burglary, stealing and other offenses.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

For a while, it seemed as though it would be a long time before Kansas lawmakers came up with a tax plan that could pass. Just when it seemed the impasse was at its worst, the Women's Caucus stepped up with a plan that led to a compromise.

Guests:

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

It took 113 days instead of the scheduled 100, but Kansas lawmakers finally ended their 2017 session Saturday.

Their final act was to approve a two-year budget plan that supporters say will start the process of repairing damage done by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts. But the session’s climatic moment occurred a week earlier when lawmakers overrode Brownback’s veto of a bill that largely reversed those cuts. 

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The Olathe School Board meeting Thursday night was decidely more upbeat than about this time two years ago. At that time,the board was facing a $2 million deficit and had laid off 80 people to fill budget hole.

But last night, the board heard the district will probably be able to spend about $14.5 million more in the 2017-2018 school under the school funding plan passed this week by the Kansas Legislature.

Dan Margolies / Kansas News Service

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who catapulted to national prominence on the strength of his anti-immigration views, announced his candidacy for Kansas governor Thursday.

Kobach made the announcement two days after Kansas lawmakers voted to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a tax package that would raise $1.2 billion over the next two years — a rejection of Brownback’s signature 2012 tax cuts.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

School districts across Kansas are breathing a bit easier after the Legislature passed a school funding plan and a tax law that provides the money for it.

Ideally, districts would want to have most of their budgets done by now so school boards could approve them and publish in August.

But not this year, as lawmakers have struggled to agree on a plan to adequately fund schools in the face of a June 30 deadline from the state Supreme Court. 

Conservative Republicans have joined with moderates and Democrats to override Gov. Sam Brownback's veto of a $1.2 billion tax increase. This brings to a close many of the tax cuts pushed by the Brownback in 2012.  

Subscribe to Statehouse Blend Kansas, and stay up to date with the latest news from the Kansas Legislature: iTunesGoogle Play, and on the NPR One app.

Kansas lawmakers have gotten down to business, passing a school funding bill that adds nearly $300 million over two years for public education and a $1.2 billion tax plan. But just minutes after the vote, Gov. Sam Brownback said he would veto the package.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

On Day 108 of the Kansas Legislature’s session, lawmakers got down to business. They passed a school funding bill that adds nearly $300 million over two years for public education, then they approved a $1.2 billion tax plan.

But minutes after the Senate’s 26-14 tax plan vote, Gov. Sam Brownback said he would veto the package, which would put more than 300,00 small businesses and farmers back on the tax rolls, add a third income tax bracket and restore a number of tax deductions and credits.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

There are two college tuition stories in Kansas right now.

The first is a good news story. Johnson County Community College says it will hold the line on tuition. The JCCC Board of Trustees voted last month to maintain the current cost for students. A credit hour is $93 for Johnson County residents and $110 for all other Kansas residents.

“JCCC is a place where every student has the opportunity for success.  By not raising tuition, that opportunity for success is now more achievable for more students,” president Joe Sopcich said in a statement.

Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

The Kansas Legislature isn’t close to coming up with a school funding formula. 

However, lawmakers are working with a bill that looks a lot like the formula they scrapped in 2015 for block grants.

That bill, and the struggle this session to write it, is not just back to the future, but back 25 years to the future. That’s when another school funding suit bogged down the session.

When the history of Kansas school finance lawsuits is written — whenever that may be — two names will loom large. And they’re not governors, attorneys general or legislative bigwigs.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

The race for Mayor and CEO of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas was quietly moving toward the August primary.

That was until Tuesday, when veteran state Sen. David Haley filed to take on incumbent Mark Holland, who filed for re-election back in February.

Kansas News Service

After 10 hours of debate, a dozen amendments and a timeout to talk taxes, the Kansas Senate early Wednesday advanced a school finance plan and returned later in the morning to approve it on a 23-16 vote.

Once they finished the late-night debate, senators ended where they began: an additional $234 million over two years for K-12 education. 

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this episode, we get the democratic perspective on a school funding formula that passed in the Kansas House last week. And, we look ahead to what tax package  might emerge in the coming week.

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The Kansas House debated a new school finance plan for five hours Wednesday, taking up two dozen amendments and finally voting 81-40 to advance a bill not much different from the one that had come out of committee. The measure is slated to get a final vote Thursday in the House. Then it will be the Senate’s turn.  

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The standing room only crowd that showed up Tuesday evening to tell a Kansas City Council committee what it thought about a new, single terminal at Kansas City International Airport was pretty evenly divided.

Those representing construction companies, trade unions and economic development organizations want the project to push forward as quickly as possible.

Sam Zeff

The Kansas Legislature continues to struggle to come up with a tax plan and a school funding formula. Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Republican from Fairway, says finding a consensus is complicated because there are so many factions within the Republican Party.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The University of Missouri-Kansas City confirmed Thursday that it laid off 30 people this week as part of a plan to cut up to $30 million in spending over the next two years.

The university refused to say exactly when the layoffs happened or what departments were cut. When first contacted about the layoffs, UMKC spokesman John Martellaro replied in an email, "We do not comment on personnel matters."  When pressed, Martellaro finally confirmed the layoffs. "Yes, layoffs have occurred," he wrote in another email. 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas legislative leaders working on a plan to end the 2017 session have what amounts to a chicken-and-egg dilemma.

They must satisfy members who want to set a school-funding target before voting on the tax increases needed to fund it and those who first want to close a projected $900 million gap between revenue and spending over the next two budget years.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Gov. Sam Brownback’s approval rating among Kansans continues to flounder and ranks lower than that of President Donald Trump, according to the spring Kansas Speaks survey released Tuesday.

The survey, published twice a year by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, found that Brownback has an approval rating of 21 percent, while 56 percent said they are “very dissatisfied” with him. The very dissatisfied number is down from the 62 percent the governor received a year ago. 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

A divided K-12 Education Budget Committee on Monday passed out a school funding plan for Kansas schools that essentially nobody likes.

It adds $279 million over two years: $179 million in the first year and $100 million in the second. After that, school funding would increase based on the inflation rate. The measure was kicked out of committee without recommendation.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

When Kansas lawmakers started this legislative session in January, most agreed that comity was back, partnerships would be forged and work would get done.

That was then and this is now.

A trio of challenges remain as the Legislature on Sunday passed the 90-day mark in its session: a budget, a tax plan and a school funding formula.

Matt Hodapp / 89.3 KCUR

Kansas lawmakers had high hopes last week that a Senate tax bill would pass, and they could get on with approving a budget. But, two Democrats joined with a number of Republicans to vote down the legislation. The Democrats said it wouldn't generate enough revenue. On this week’s podcast, KCUR’s Jim McLean and Sam Zeff talk with Republican Rep. Russ Jennings, who says that vote could prolong the session. 

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

Kansas lawmakers still need to come up with a tax plan, budget and school funding formula before the end of this legislative session. These two senators say they're tired of waiting to vote on it all, but say they'll work as long as needed to pass legislation they think is best for Kansas.

Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

Educators and some lawmakers weren’t sure which Jeff King they were going to hear from Thursday.

Would the House K-12 Budget Committee hear from the conservative former Senate vice president who pushed through block grants and tried to defund the courts? Or would they hear from a constitutional lawyer with experience litigating school finance cases in Kansas? 

Turns out it was the latter.

“I don’t think there’s anything he said that really threatens where the bill is going,” said Mark Tallman, the top lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

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