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.

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR

The Kansas City school district may be getting into the charter school business.

The district says it received the OK from the state board of education on Tuesday to become a charter school sponsor.

Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green says if the charter schools are going to continue to play a bigger role in education, the district should be part of that discussion.

"This gets us to the table and allows us to be an active and equal participant in the conversation about charter schools in our community," Green said in a statement.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It was a year ago that the first crack appeared in what many in the St. Joseph School District called the "friends and family plan."

If you were connected, you cashed in.

On March 24 of last year a routine school board meeting took a sudden and drastic twist.

School board member Chris Danford, to the surprise of everyone in the room, blew the whistle on a stipend program that would open up the district to investigations by the FBI, a grand jury and the Missouri State Auditor.

Kansas Legislature

Republican Kansas Rep. Barbara Bollier from Mission Hills, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

On the same day the Kansas House passed legislation that would drastically change the way schools are funded in the state, a three judge district court panel in Shawnee County issued a ruling which could complicate the issue.

By the narrowest of margins, the house passed a block grant funding bill backed by Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders.

Lawyers involved in the school funding case say the order late Friday afternoon is a shot across the Legislature’s bow.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

For two years, the Kansas City Public Schools and Academie Lafayette tried to come to a deal to merge schools at the Southwest Early College Campus.

On Tuesday that partnership fell apart.

When it was announced, it was billed as the next thing in education, a partnership between a very successful charter school and a somewhat struggling public high school.

But in the end, leaders from both sides say, it was too difficult to merge the academic programs and to figure out where to house the joint program.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The battle lines were clear as Kansas legislators began hearings on the most radical change in school funding in the state in a generation.

Republican leadership in the Statehouse wants to scrap the current school funding formula and replace it, for two years, with block grants while they work on a new formula.

At a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee, the state's business interests lined up on one side of the bill and educators, from superintendents to the state PTA, lined up on the other.

Republican Kansas Rep. Lane Hemsley from Topeka, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Educators say they’re more concerned than ever about legislation that would drastically change the way Kansas schools are funded.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican leaders in the Legislature want to scrap the current school funding formula. They say it’s too complicated.

While that formula is rewritten, they want to temporarily fund schools through block grants.

The Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday issued an order that may speed up the appeals process in the ongoing court battle over school funding in the state.

In December a three-judge panel of Shawnee County District Court ruled that the state's school funding formula is constitutional but underfunded. 

While the panel did not say how much more money is needed, it suggested it could be as much as $522 million.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

In a surprise move, a St. Joseph School District board member resigned Thursday morning.

Dr. Dan Colgan is a former board president and was superintendent for 14 years in the district before retiring in 2006 and getting elected to the school board.

Brad Wilson / Flickr-CC

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is not planning to back off budget cuts to public schools even though tax collections were better than expected last month.

As those reductions approach, districts are trying to figure out where to cut. 

There was some hope that the governor would back away from $28 million in K-12 cuts he announced in early February if revenue rebounded a bit.

After revenues fell short of expectations in December and January, the state collected $22 million more in taxes than expected in February.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Most educators believe that American students aren’t in school enough.

Ask teachers what would improve academics and most would say more time with their kids — and there’s plenty of research to back that up.

Starting in June students in two metro elementary schools will be seeing their teachers a whole lot more and summer a whole lot less.

Winnwood and Crestview elementary schools in the North Kansas City School District will be adding 31 days to their academic calendars. They are the first two schools in Missouri to, essentially, go year-round. 

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Sen. Marci Francisco from Lawrence, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It’s time to rethink summer.

At least that’s what educators are now telling parents and students. And academics, it turns out, is just one part of the new plan.

Here’s what’s true about summer, especially in the Kansas City, Mo., public schools: Students slip academically, they eat awful food and they often get in trouble.

But there’s a solution, says Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green. Just keep kids in school.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

In a move long anticipated by many in St. Joseph, Mo., the Board of Education voted in closed session Thursday night to fire its chief operating officer and demote its human resources director.

The vote was announced in a statement issued early Friday afternoon.

Gone is COO Rick Hartigan who's been on paid administrative leave for about five weeks. Hartigan has been with the district for 26 years, first as communications director. He was promoted to COO ten years ago. He's a former newspaper reporter in St. Joseph.

Republican Kansas Sen. Jeff Melcher from Leawood, Ks. joins Statehouse Blend to talk policy, politics, and his personal life.

This is an excerpt from an episode of Statehouse Blend. You can hear the full version here.

Guests:

  • Jeff Melcher, Senator for the 11th District, Kansas Legislature
  • Carson Tappan, Citizen voice and documentary film maker
  • Steve Vockrodt, Reporter, The Pitch
Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Sen. Jeff Melcher from Leawood, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

The Civil Rights Project / UCLA

Missouri suspends black elementary school students at a higher rate than any other state in the nation, according to a new report out Monday from the Civil Right Project at the UCLA.

The Kansas City, Mo., public school district is one of four Missouri districts singled out.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Almost two years to the day that he signed his contract with the St. Joseph School District, Superintendent Fred Czerwonka has been fired.

The action was announced in a statement Saturday morning from the district. The board voted 6-0 to fire Czerwonka. Former district superintendent and board president Dan Colgan was absent.

No other personnel actions were taken, according to the statement.

Sources say the district has already created a list of potential interim superintendents if or when Czerwonka exits.

Missour Senate

The fallout following a scathing report on the St. Joseph, Mo., School District from the state auditor has been swift and severe.

State Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican from St. Joseph, called for the state attorney general to prosecute those responsible for mishandling district funds.

The audit uncovered up to $40 million in stipends for administrators over the past 14 years that were unknown and unapproved by the St. Joseph Board of Education.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The long anticipated state audit of the St.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democratic Kansas Sen. Pat Pettey from Kansas City, Kan., provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The No. 2 person in the St. Joseph School District, who is now on administrative leave, claims he is not the target of an ongoing FBI investigation of the district.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The beleaguered St. Joseph, Mo., School Board met behind closed doors for three hours Monday night to hear from a host of lawyers. None of what members heard was good news.

The board received a report from one lawyer on the process that lead to district CFO Beau Musser being placed on administrative leave last year. At the time, the district accused Musser of sexual misconduct and creating a hostile work environment. A different investigation cleared Musser of any wrongdoing and after seven months of paid leave he returned to work last November.

UMKC

For the first time, UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton apologized on Monday for the untruthful information the university supplied to online reviewers of its Bloch Business School entrepreneurship program.

Morton made the apology on KCUR’s Up to Date with Steve Kraske.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The long anticipated report from the Missouri State Auditor on the scandal-plagued St. Joseph, Mo., School District will be released on Feb. 17.

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich made the announcement Wednesday. The audit will be released during a public forum at Oak Grove Elementary School. While most audits are simply released online or at a news conference some high profile audits are released at public events.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

When they’re not talking about how to fund education in the Kansas Statehouse, they’re talking about how to change it. How to improve it. How to get better results with the same money.

Six school districts across the state are now rolling out something that may do all of that.

The school districts in Concordia, Marysville, McPherson, Blue Valley, Hugoton and Kansas City, Kan., are all part of something called the Coalition of Innovative School Districts and they all want, among other things, to license teachers differently. In a way, they say, that works best for them.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

School districts in Johnson County are waging a desperate fight to defeat a bill that would force them to cut millions of dollars from their budgets.

The measure had its first hearing Tuesday in the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Educators from across the state lined up to oppose the bill, which would change the way the state distributes state aid around local option budgets.

CJ Janovy / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Linda Gallagher from Lenexa provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

  • Linda Gallagher, Representative for the 23rd District, Kansas Legislature
  • Bruce Smith, citizen voice
  • CJ Janovy​, Arts Reporter, KCUR
Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A bill in the Kansas Senate would reduce the amount of state aid to most school districts in Kansas in the current fiscal year.

The measure is what educators in Kansas feared the most — a bill that would force districts to cut their budgets before the current fiscal year ends in July.

The measure would cut state aid for Local Option Budgets, that portion of school budgets raised through local property tax.

The state provides money to help equalize those taxes between wealthy and low-income districts.

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