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.


5:20 pm
Wed December 10, 2014

St. Joseph School District To Lose $2 Million In State Aid

The St. Joseph School District's summer school program is under scrutiny by the State of Missouri.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The troubles for the St. Joseph, Mo., School District just keep getting deeper — and coming from unexpected directions.

The district is already under investigation by the FBI and the Missouri State Auditor. Now, Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) says the district improperly charged the state for more than two dozen summer school classes.

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4:00 pm
Wed December 10, 2014

Missouri Denied Federal Early Childhood Development Grant

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received some bad news Wednesday.

Its application for a $17.5 million grant to boost the number of children in state-funded early childhood education programs was turned down by the U.S. Department of Education.

The grants were announced in conjunction with a Dec. 10 White House summit on early childhood development. Eighteen states will share $226 million in federal grants to either develop state pre-kindergarten programs or expand existing programs.

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Missouri General Assembly
2:04 pm
Tue December 2, 2014

Common Core, District Accreditation Topics Of Debate When Lawmakers Return

Two bills already have been filed for 2015 session that would drastically change education in Missouri.
Credit Wickipedia-CC

Missouri legislators don’t return to Jefferson City for another month, but two bills that would make big changes to education in the state already have been filed.

One would drastically change the way school districts are accredited and another would stir the controversy around Common Core standards.

Rep. David Wood, a Republican from Versailles in mid-Missouri, pre-filed a bill that would require the state to accredit individual schools rather than entire districts.

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Beyond Our Borders
5:57 am
Wed November 26, 2014

Look What Happens When Kansas, Missouri Test Scores Are On A Level Playing Field

Missouri and Kansas fourth-grade math scores compared using the state standards (top), and the international benchmarking.
Credit American Institutes for Research -- highlighting KCUR

For years, states have decided the definition of reading and math proficiency with their own sets of standards.

The result? Kansas children often seem to come out ahead of Missouri children in math and reading, when comparing the states' data.

But when this data is normalized across all 50 states, there's a different story.

RELATED: What You Probably Didn't Know About Academic Standards In Kansas And Missouri

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Beyond Our Borders
5:19 am
Wed November 26, 2014

What You Probably Didn't Know About Academic Standards In Kansas And Missouri

When test scores for students in Missouri and Kansas are compared using international benchmarking, Missouri students perform better.
Credit / Creative Commons

It’s not really fair, but when many people around here think of quality schools, they think of Kansas.

Indeed, going back decades lots of real estate agents have guided new residents to the Kansas side of the line.

But there’s a significant difference between how Missouri schools and Kansas schools are judged.

"Our Missouri standards tend to rank at the more rigorous levels than do our standards assessments in Kansas," says Dr. Leigh Anne Taylor Knight of the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium.

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5:32 pm
Sat November 22, 2014

Legal Troubles Mount For St. Joseph School District

Legal troubles piled up for the St. Joesph, Mo., school districts this week as their insurer moved to be dismissed of liability in a pending lawsuit.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

It was a brutal legal week for the embattled St. Joseph, Mo., School District.

It was served with a third federal grand jury subpoena for documents, as staff welcomed back CFO Beau Musser after seven months on paid administrative leave after accusing him of sexual misconduct.

An outside investigation showed Musser did not act improperly. Musser sued the district and that lawsuit is still pending.

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6:43 pm
Thu November 20, 2014

Federal Investigation of St. Joseph School District Narrows

A third grand jury subpoena was served at the St. Joseph School District headquarters, which is about an hour north of Kansas City, Mo.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The federal investigation into the St. Joseph School District is becoming more focused.

A third grand jury subpoena was served on the Missouri district late Thursday.

This latest subpoena for documents asks for some very specific information.

In a news release, the district says the grand jury sitting in Kansas City, Mo., wants to know about the district's tuition reimbursement and teacher certificate reimbursement programs.

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3:54 pm
Mon November 17, 2014

St. Joseph Public School Administrator Returns As Stipend Scandal Continues

The St. Joesph School District has been suffering under a scandal over stipends handed out to administrators by Superintendent Fred Czerwonka.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The St. Joseph School District in St. Joseph, Mo., faces a raft of problems, including an investigation by the FBI, a federal grand jury in Kansas City, the U.S. Department of Education and the Missouri State Auditor. 

But at least one of the embattled district’s problems may be cycling to an end.

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2:58 pm
Thu November 13, 2014

College Costs Continue To Climb In Missouri, Kansas

It's no surprise to parents, but the cost of a college education continues to rise.

The College Board issued a report Thursday showing the average in-state student paid $9,139 in 2013-2014. That's up 17 percent in the past five years, according to the report.

In-state students in Kansas and Missouri fare a little better.

The average cost in Kansas is $8,086. That's up 16 percent in the past five years.

In Missouri, in-state students paid $8,383 last year. But that's an increase of only five percent in the last five years.

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4:00 pm
Wed November 12, 2014

Kansas Educators Worried About Budget Gap

Gov. Sam Brownback claims victory on election night.
Credit Andy Marso / KHI News Service

This week some very dire budget predictions came out of Topeka: In the next two years Kansas may come up $1 billion short of expenses.

But that’s in the future. Right now the state has to find $279 million.

When budget experts gathered Monday, school districts all across Kansas were watching closely.

They knew if the projected budget shortfall for the rest of this fiscal year was bad, they faced potential cuts in state funding.

Not next year but this year — money already budgeted would be lost.

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6:00 am
Wed November 12, 2014

Student Homelessness Spikes In Rural And Urban Kansas City Metro

Volunteers prepare food items from the Harvesters Food Bank at the Gardner Church of the Nazarene.
Credit Cody Newill / KCUR

New figures from the U.S. Department of Education show that homelessness among American students has sky-rocketed by 58 percent in the past five years.

While the problem is at its worst in urban school districts the government data reveals that, for the first time, rural and suburban school districts are dealing with homelessness on a large scale. 

There are now an estimated 1.3 million homeless students in this country.

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5:54 pm
Sat November 8, 2014

More Summer Jobs For Youth In Jackson County

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announces a new Summer jobs program for low-income Jackson County youth.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCU

A summer jobs program for low-income youth is expanding in Jackson County.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says 1,500 slots will be available to workers age 18 to 24 in the county.

Last year, using federal grant money, workers were hired to spruce up local parks. This year, Nixon says, there’s more jobs available and so the state is looking for private partners.

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Election 2014
11:29 pm
Tue November 4, 2014

Senator Roberts Bests Orman in Tough Kansas Race

Greg Orman and a supporter on Election Night.
Credit Peggy Lowe / KCUR

Incumbent Pat Roberts held on to his U.S. Senate seat Tuesday after besting Independent Greg Orman.

It was a surprisingly easy win for Roberts after a bruising battle to keep a place in Washington he's had for three decades.

Roberts made his victory speech at the Republican watch party in Topeka.

"We said for months the road to a Republican majority in the United States Senate lead through Kansas and we did it," said Roberts.

With all precincts reporting, Roberts beat Orman 53 percent to 43 percent.

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World Series
9:28 pm
Tue October 28, 2014

World Series Is Like A 'Three Hour Commercial' For Kansas City

With the Royals in the World Series, Kansas City has been thrust into the national spotlight.
Credit MoDOT / Flickr--CC

Even before the Royals made it to the World Series by sweeping Baltimore, something was happening to how America saw Kansas City.

This summer, The Huffington Post named Kansas City the 'coolest' city in America and the World Series has just made the spotlight brighter.

Kansas City, it seems, has a whole new reputation. It's a hidden gem, the place to visit, the new "it" town.

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5:00 am
Fri October 24, 2014

Kansas City Is Baseball Crazy Now, But You Should've Seen 1955

The Kansas City Athletics competed at Kansas City Municipal Stadium, located at 22nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue in Kansas City, Mo.
Credit Wikipedia -- Creative Commons


With the Royals in the World Series you might think that Kansas City has never been quite this excited about anything.

Everywhere you look there’s Royals blue.

But if you think Kansas City is baseball crazy now, you should have seen 1955 when the Athletics arrived from Philadelphia.

Jeff Logan, president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society says the whole city turned out when the team flew in from its spring training site in Florida.

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3:53 pm
Thu October 16, 2014

The 10 Best Major League Baseball Players Raised In Kansas City

Frank White, one of Kansas City's best and possibly its most popular baseball player.
Credit baseball card image

The Kansas City area has a long and rich baseball history.

This year's Royals team is just another chapter.

With that in mind, this longtime Kansas City baseball fan came up with a list of the top 10 Big Leaguers who hail from Kansas City.

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Election 2014
6:50 am
Tue October 14, 2014

Education Now Top Issue In Race For Kansas Governor

Education may be the most important issue in the race for Kansas governor.
Credit city-data

We all knew education was going to be an important issue in the race for Kansas governor.

But in the last three weeks of the campaign it just might turn out to 'the' issue.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, have charged each other with dastardly education deeds for weeks.

At a news conference last month in Topeka, Davis accused the governor of cutting education funding.

“All we’ve gotten from Gov. Brownback on education is deep cuts and failed leadership," he said.

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6:59 am
Thu October 9, 2014

Who Is Missing From The Kansas City Chamber's Big 5 Pre-K Push?

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has made high quality preschool one of its Big 5 Initiatives.
Credit woodleywonderworks / Wikimedia-CC

Everyone, it seems, wants more children to attend pre-kindergarten.

Just last week President Barack Obama called for 6 million more high quality early childhood education slots by the end of the decade.

But the United States now has fewer children in state-funded pre-K programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. About 28 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled across the country. Overall there were 4,301 fewer children in pre-K classes in 2013 when compared to the previous year.

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5:41 pm
Tue October 7, 2014

Missouri Seeks Federal Grant For Early Childhood Education

A multi-million dollar federal grant would pay for more children to go to high-quality preschool programs in Missouri.
Credit Sarah Gilbert / Flickr--CC

The state of Missouri is going after a multi-million dollar federal grant that would pay for more children to go to high-quality preschool programs.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says it has applied for a $17.5 million Preschool Development Grant.

This is the same grant program that Kansas said no to last month.

Most educators agree that high-quality pre-school is crucial to improving education at all levels.

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Police Investigation
8:16 pm
Wed October 1, 2014

KU Fraternity Investigated For Sexual Assault

The Kappa Sigma fraternity at KU has been put on suspension and is at the center of a sexual assault investigation.

University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little moved quickly to place Kappa Sigma fraternity on interim suspension after allegations of a sexual assault at the house over the weekend.

Lawrence police say the alleged crime was reported early Monday morning. According to the university, Gray-Little authorized the interim suspension letter Tuesday. That letter was hand delivered to the Kappa Sigma house. The action and police investigation were announced Wednesday.

The university's Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access is also investigating.

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5:00 am
Wed October 1, 2014

Davis Says Education, Brownback Says Tax Cuts To Grow Kansas Economy

Will the Kansas economy get a bigger boost from tax cuts or additional spending on education? That's a major issue in the race for governor.
Credit city-data

There are two big issues in the race for Kansas governor this year: How to fund education and how to grow the economy.

Republican incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback is standing firm on cutting taxes to boost the economy.

Brownback has cut income taxes for individuals and eliminated them for small businesses. He says this will spur business development and thus the economy will grow.

But House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Davis has a very different idea.

Davis says he will drive economic growth by spending more on education.

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3:09 pm
Tue September 30, 2014

Two Kansas City Metro Schools Named National Blue Ribbon Winners

Two Kansas City metro schools have been named National Blue Ribbon schools by the U.S. Department of Education.

Only 337 schools across the county were named National Blue Ribbon winners.

Some were named for excelling in academics and others for closing achievement gaps.

Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in the Kansas City, Mo., school district was named. This is the second time the prestigious magnet school has won a Blue Ribbon. It was last awarded one in 2008.

The other metro school was Our Lady of Presentation Catholic School in Lee’s Summit, Mo.

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1:19 pm
Fri September 26, 2014

University Of Missouri System Expected To Change Sexual Misconduct Policy

The University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo.
Credit Yassie / Wikimedia-CC

Later this week, the University of Missouri Board of Curators will vote on a plan to change the way sexual assault and harassment complaints are handled.

But some faculty members say the process is moving forward a little too quickly.

University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe is proposing a change that would require schools to investigate sexual harassment or discrimination cases within 60 days.

The proposal before the curators also would widen which employees must report harassment to the administration and change the hearing process.

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1:04 pm
Thu September 25, 2014

Claycomo Assembly Plant Now Biggest In Ford System

United Auto Workers members look on as Ford announces 1,200 additional jobs are coming to the Claycomo assembly plant.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Thursday morning Ford announced it was adding 1,200 jobs at its Claycomo, Mo., plant because of surging demand for the company’s new Transit van.

Ford says Transit van sales have grown every month since it was introduced.

With hundreds of United Auto Workers union members looking on, John Hinrichs, Ford president in the Americas, said by the end of the year there will be 6,000 UAW jobs in Claycomo.

That makes it the assembly giant in the company.

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3:00 pm
Wed September 24, 2014

Former Mayors To Lead Kansas City Chamber's Pre-Kindergarten Effort

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce announces it is adding pre-kindergarten education to the Big 5 agenda at the Chamber's Union Station headquarters.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is jumping into an area it’s never tackled.

At a packed event at the Chamber's Union Station headquarters, Chamber President Roshann Parris said the organization has a new item for its Big 5 agenda of civic goals: making sure every child in the metropolitan area is ready for kindergarten.

"No single issue impacts the health and vitality of our regional community and regional workforce more than education," Parris said.

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7:41 am
Wed September 24, 2014

Chamber Adds Early Childhood Development To Big 5

Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President Roshann Parris. The chamber is adding early childhood education to its Big 5 goals.

There’s been a push in the past couple of years to improve both the access to and quality of pre-kindergarten education.

Now the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce will jump into that effort and add early childhood development to its Big Five initiative.

Chamber President Roshann Parris says after meeting for months with area school superintendents, education researchers and, of course, business people, members decided that the best place to put their considerable clout and resources was in pre-K education.

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Election 2014
5:00 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Education Emerges As Major Issue in Race For Kansas Governor

The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission meets in the old state supreme court chambers in the Kansas Statehouse
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Everyone knew education was going to be an issue in the race for Kansas governor.

In debates and TV commercials, Republican incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback says he’s increased spending on public schools. His Democratic challenger, House Minority leader Paul Davis from Lawrence, claims Brownback has cut funding.

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5:11 am
Thu September 18, 2014

Missouri Amendment 3 Campaign Closes Down For Good

Amendmend 3 would limit teacher contracts to no more than three years and would prohibit teachers from negotiating any classroom evaluation system.
Credit / Flickr--CC

Teach Great, the Rex Sinqufield-backed campaign to drastically change the way teachers are evaluated in Missouri, has shut down.

Last week, late in the day on Sept. 9, Teach Great spokesperson Kate Casas issued a statement saying the organization would not pursue the Amendment 3 campaign. She said that instead Teach Great would embark on a statewide listening tour and that it looked forward to working with elected officials on other grassroots efforts.

Instead, she now says, Teach Great is closing its doors for good.

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9:48 am
Fri September 12, 2014

School Scam Sweeps Across 22 States Including Missouri

Authorities in 22 states, including Missouri, are investigating a scam aimed at school districts.

There’s nothing fancy about this scam. There’s no hacking or card readers.  It’s just what the Better Business Bureau calls an old time invoice scam.

It works like this: someone sends around invoices for $647.50 for workbooks.

The company name on the invoice, investigators say, is Scholastic School Supply, which is suspiciously close to Scholastic Inc., the huge educational book publisher.

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7:55 pm
Tue September 9, 2014

Campaign Called Off For Controversial Missouri Teacher Ballot Measure

A constitutional amendment that would require districts to base the majority of an educator’s evaluation on student achievement has suddenly lost backing from its supporters.
Credit Cybrarian 77 / Flickr--CC

A very contentious ballot issue in Missouri has been suddenly abandoned by its backers.

Amendment 3 would drastically change the way teachers are evaluated and retained.

The constitutional amendment would require districts to base the majority of an educator’s evaluation on student achievement. Teacher pay and retention would be largely based on that data. Amendment 3 would also cut into teacher tenure.

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