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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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.

Susie Fagan / KCUR 89.3

Kansas lawmakers are back from spring break with nothing but big issues to deal with before the end of the session: taxes, budget and school finance. When will it all get done? Two panels of legislators sat down with us live in the Capitol to work through the issues as we head toward the end of this legislative session.

Johnson County Community College / YouTube

Kansas universities and community colleges have been working for years getting ready to allow campus concealed carry.

Unless the Legislature rolls the change back, and that appears unlikely, Johnson County and every other state school will have to allow almost anyone older than 21 to carry a pistol on campus on July 1.

stgermh / Flickr-CC

The Kansas Legislature faces a crucial deadline as it starts its wrap-up session this week: It must have a school funding formula in place by June 30 that passes muster with the state Supreme Court or the justices will shut down public schools.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Some have said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has been largely absent from this legislative session, but the power of his veto has loomed large. As we begin to come to the close of this session, KPR's Stephen Koranda reports on the relationship between the Governor and the Legislature.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

A Republican leader in the Kansas Senate says he’ll propose a fee on all utility bills in the state to help fund education.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, says his plan calls for a $3 monthly fee on residential electric, gas and water bills in the state. Those with all three utilities would pay $9 more a month. For commercial customers, the monthly fee would be $10 per bill.

The whole package would raise $150 million a year, Denning estimates.

File Photo / KCUR 89.3

Just because Kansas had an election a few months ago doesn’t mean people aren’t already thinking about 2018 legislative campaigns.

Grassroots organizations in Johnson County are multiplying and starting to plot how they will elect more moderate Republicans and Democrats to the Kansas Legislature.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Outgoing Shawnee Mission School Superintendent Jim Hinson was absent from Monday night's board meeting but he was the subject of much discussion.

The board officially accepted Hinson's resignation and started to lay out plans to search for his successor.

Hinson, who has headed the district for the past four years, unexpectedly announced his retirement last week. His last day is June 30.

Several members of the public asked the school board to hold off on hiring a new superintendent until after the November elections. Three board positions will be on the ballot.

Amy Jeffries / KCUR 89.3

When a number of moderate Republicans joined the Kansas Legislature after the 2016 election, many were talking about a possible coalition with the Democrats. As the 2017 legislative session starts to near its end, we explore whether that coalition ever became a reality. 

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Starting in August, KU Athletics will ban all purses from football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball games and other major sporting events.

If it’s larger than a typical clutch bag and opaque, it won’t be allowed into big games.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

This story has been updated at 4:10 p.m. on April 19.

The University of Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State all want to prevent fans from carrying concealed weapons into major sporting events.

The three schools asked a Kansas Board of Regents committee Wednesday for permission to use metal detectors and armed security to screen fans. The committee agreed.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

One employee was killed and four more were injured by an explosion at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Missouri.

The Joint Munitions Command says the explosion occurred at approximately 1 p.m. Tuesday in a primer mixing cell. The injured workers were evaluated on scene and refused further treatment.

Kansas lawmakers have a plan for school funding, but they still have to pass it. And they have to agree on some mix of spending cuts and revenue increases to close the giant budget gaps projected for the next two years. Kansas News Service editors Amy Jeffries and Jim McLean joined Statehouse Blend host Sam Zeff to talk about how lawmakers might ultimately solve the state’s budget problems.

Kansas lawmakers have a plan for school funding, but they still have to pass it, and agree on some mix of spending cuts and revenue increases to close the giant budget gaps projected for the next two years. Kansas News Service editors Amy Jeffries and Jim McLean joined Statehouse Blend host Sam Zeff to talk about how lawmakers might ultimately solve the state’s budget problems.

Kansas News Service

Kansas legislators hit adjournment Friday with some big tasks left for their wrap-up session that starts May 1.

At the top of the list is a tax and budget plan, which largely will be influenced by the amount of school funding that legislators decide to add in light of the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling last month. In the health policy arena, Medicaid expansion supporters are regrouping after the governor’s veto — and holding out hope for another shot this session.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

The crowd filling the old Supreme Court room at the Kansas Statehouse expected a bit of a showdown Wednesday when the House K-12 Budget Committee discussed how much money to put into public education.

In the end, that debate lasted about 10 minutes and the committee stood pat on adding $150 million a year for five years for a total package of $750 million.

Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

The chairman of the K-12 Budget Committee in the Kansas House promised that a new funding formula would be approved Monday and sent to the floor so the measure would be considered before lawmakers leave for a three-week break.

Turns out, politics got in the way.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

David Howard, Superintendent of the Basehor-Linwood school district, and David Smith, Chief of Public Affairs for Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, react to a school funding formula that has been proposed in the Kansas Legislature.   

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

A Kansas legislative committee worked eight hours Thursday night and didn't come up with a new school funding formula.

But we now know the goal for how much new money will be added to try and satisfy the state Supreme Court which has ruled school funding in Kansas is inadequate.

“Our target was a $150 million over a period of five years, to escalate up slowly to a more constitutionally appropriate number,” says Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Republican from Fairway and a driving force to find more money for public education.

Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

Kansas legislative leaders took a couple of days to try to persuade some members of the House K-12 Budget Committee to accept $75 million more in school funding, according to legislators on both sides of the aisle.

But the hardball tactics apparently failed.

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