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

Perhaps the issue that worries current educators the most is where the next generation of teachers will come from.

Lots of teachers are leaving the profession. But what’s scarier than that is the shrinking number of people who chose teaching as a career.

You can blame economics and politics.

Teachers and public education take a beating at the hands of some politicians.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Area school districts seeking additional state aid due to increased enrollment took a beating from the State Finance Council Monday.

Five area districts applied for money from the Extraordinary Needs Fund, a pool of money the Legislature created when it approved block grant funding last session.

But two walked away with no additional state aid. Olathe asked for $458,501 and got zero. Bonner Springs requested $155,094 and also got nothing.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It will be a tense day at the Kansas Statehouse Monday as 38 school districts ask the state for more money on top of the block grants they received for this school year.

The districts are asking for Extraordinary Needs Funding, money set aside by the Legislature when it dumped the previous school funding formula for the block grant scheme. The $12.3 million pool is for districts who claim an extraordinary increase in enrollment or plummeting real estate values.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. from Olathe provides an insider perspective on the Kansas Legislature as we discuss free lunches from lobbyists, block grants, and extraordinary need funding for schools.

Guests:

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas State Finance Council, chaired by Gov. Sam Brownback and dominated by Republican legislative leaders, is playing hardball with school districts seeking extraordinary funding.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach  joins Statehouse Blend to discuss voter fraud, immigration, and his treatment in the media.

This is an excerpt from Statehouse Blend. You can listen to the full episode here, or by subscribing on itunes.

Guests:

  • Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State
  • Melissa Carlson, Citizen Voice
  • Nick Haines, Executive Producer of Public Affairs, KCPT
Sam Zeff / KCUR

When the State Finance Council meets next week, it's going to have some tough decisions to make. Kansas has $12.3 million in Extraordinary Needs Funds available but school districts are asking for almost $15.1 million.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

School districts across Missouri found out Monday how they did on last year's standardized tests.

For Kansas City Public Schools and the Hickman Mills districts, both provisionally accredited by the state, the news was mixed.

Missouri changed its test so it's impossible to accurately compare scores year-to-year. However, both districts scored below 50 percent proficient or advanced in all four subjects tested —English, math, science and social studies.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Class has just started for most students, but it’s already a tough year for Kansas schools.

Many districts have been struggling to make ends meet, laying off staff or raising property taxes. But for a few dozen districts, the situation is worse.

So some districts are asking for help from the state’s Extraordinary Needs Fund.

When you think of Olathe public schools, the phrase extraordinary needs doesn’t jump to mind.

New buildings, lots of green space, beautiful offices.

But, the district says, money is tight.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach  joins Statehouse Blend to discuss voter fraud, immigration, and his treatment in the media.

Guests:

  • Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State
  • Melissa Carlson, Citizen Voice
  • Nick Haines, Executive Producer of Public Affairs, KCPT
Sam Zeff / KCUR

The embattled St. Joseph School District remains in the FBI’s cross hairs.  The district says it received another grand jury subpoena this week, the fifth in a little more than a year.

While the district wouldn’t say what the government specifically demanded in the subpoena, interim Superintendent Robert Newhart did say it included information from district employees.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The IRS audit of the scandal ridden St. Joseph School District will take an entire year to complete.

When the district announced the audit it said the IRS would be at district headquarters for only four days this month looking at contracts, termination agreements and board minutes from 2013.

But at the very end of this week’s board of education meeting, administrators told the school board the IRS will spend the next year combing through documents from 2012 through 2014. Many board members were stunned to hear the news.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The release of standardized test scores in Missouri this year are coming out slowly, so the Kansas City Public Schools and the Hickman Mills School District won't know for at least a few weeks whether they will gain full accreditation from the state.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released statewide test results Tuesday, but the district-by-district numbers won't be available for another week.

Kansas City and Hickman Mills are provisionally accredited and were hoping to have the state fully accredit them this year.

Brad Wilson / Flickr-CC

When Missouri releases its standardized test scores, it’s always a tense week for some school districts.

But this year two area districts are both tense and confused.

The confusion for Kansas City Public Schools and the Hickman Mills School District comes because the state changed its standardized tests.

Both districts are provisionally accredited and hoping for full accreditation following this year’s results which will be publicly released Tuesday.

However, the state says because of the change, a year-to-year comparison would be almost useless.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

This just might be the most challenging year in Kansas education in a generation.

State funding, teachers leaving the state and hiring issues are plaguing districts across the state.

Esti Alvarez / Flickr-CC

Most adults in Missouri who work with children are required by law to report any suspected child abuse to the state. Too often, child advocates say, reports don’t get made but they hope to fix that later this year.

Two years ago the law requiring child abuse to be reported to the Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services drastically changed.

For years teachers, coaches or other youth workers had to report suspicions to a supervisor. Now state law requires those reports to be made directly to state investigators.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It's taken six months since a report from the Missouri State Auditor severely criticized the St. Joseph, Missouri School District and three of its top administrators, but Thursday the district finally pushed out its scandal-tainted former HR director.

The district says it reached a severance deal with Doug Flowers. It will pay Flowers $32,000 to leave the district.

US Dept. of Justice

One of the strictest voter ID laws in the country will be under the microscope when the Kansas Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission holds hearings to determine whether the law has suppressed voter turnout in some communities.

The Civil Rights Commission has advisory committees in all 50 states and the Kansas committee voted Tuesday to move forward with its investigation.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Sen. Laura Kelly from Topeka provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session. 

You can listen to the full episode here.

Guests:

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Sen. Laura Kelly from Topeka provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session. 

Guests:

  • Laura Kelly, Sen. for the 18th District, Kansas Legislature 
  • Gene Chavez, Citizen Voice
  • Lisa Rodriguez, Associate Producer, KCUR
Courtesy photo / Shawnee Mission School District

The Shawnee Mission School District superintendent says it's "highly likely" that Kansas state aid will come in below what's budgeted this year and the district will be forced to tap into budget reserves.

Dr. Jim Hinson told the Board of Education at Thursday night's regular meeting that he's trying to prepare for reductions in the block grant funding passed last session by the Legislature.

"Based on what we know at this time we have great concern about the state's ability to fund the formula that's in place," Hinson says.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

There are a few hundred college students in Missouri right now who are trying to figure out how to pay for a 300 percent tuition hike that they found out about two weeks ago.

UMKC

Students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who were brought into the county as children are facing a potential tripling of their tuition because of action by Missouri lawmakers, have received good news from the university.

Spokesman John Martellaro says UMKC has identified private donations to cover the difference between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Just at the time the scandal-ridden St. Joseph School District was hoping to turn the corner on its problems, documents have been uncovered about a former superintendent.

Ballotpedia has discovered that Dan Colgan enriched himself at a time when the district was scrambling to hire staff or even buy books.

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.

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