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.

Ways to Connect

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

A major data breach is being investigated in the Independence School District.

The school district employees were alerted to the scam in an email sent last Thursday.

In it, the business office says the “the names, social security numbers, addresses and earnings” of every employee was stolen in a phishing scam, where the crooks use fake emails or websites to steal person information.

The information was used to file fraudulent income tax returns, according to the email.

A fraud investigation is underway by the FBI and the Independence Police Department.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's Statehouse Blend Kansas, Rep. Susan Concannon (R-Beloit) talks about passing Medicaid Expansion out of the Kansas House and its prospects both in the Senate and on the Governor's desk.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

 

On this week's Statehouse Blend Kansas, Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) and Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) talk about the future of a recently passed tax increase bill, school funding, and legislation on concealed carry at hospitals and college campuses. 

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City Public Schools and the Mexican Consulate have partnered to offer educational opportunities to Latinos in the district.

The partnership comes at a time when many are worried about raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The partnership is housed at East High School, where the ribbon was cut Thursday.

St. Joseph School District

The St. Joseph School Board member at the center of a stipend scandal, which rocked the district and eventually led to a former superintendent going to federal prison, has resigned. 

"It was an agonizing decision to make," Chris Danford says. "I don't want to be a quitter, but it's better to split ways (with the district).

On this week's Statehouse Blend Kansas, Sen. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) talks about the various tax plans making their way through the Kansas Senate.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The fight is raging on in Topeka over whether to roll back a law that would let almost anyone carry a concealed gun on a college campus or in a library or public hospital.

The debate has mostly been around whether guns enhance or detract from people’s safety.

Less talked about is just how much allowing guns on campuses could cost.

For one Kansas City area institution it could run into the millions.

Most Kansas Board of Regents institutions have said they have little choice but to let people carry concealed weapons on university or community college campuses.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's Statehouse Blend Kansas, Sen. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) talks about the various tax plans making their way through the Kansas Senate, KanCare, and the possibility of getting primaried in the future.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The Kansas Legislature is entering its fifth week of work and already some members are being threatened with a primary and negative postcards are being dropped in mailboxes.

“They told me all this money from the Koch brothers, millions of dollars to attack me in a campaign,” Sen. Barbara Bollier, a moderate Republican from Mission Hills, said on KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. “I’m not here  to be threatened. I’m here to get it fixed. And whatever it takes. And if I do the right thing I will be re-elected because that’s what my constituents want.”

Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

When people started to file into the Kansas Senate chamber on Thursday morning, it was clear the legislation that leadership was pushing was dead.

New, moderate Republican legislators elected in November seemed to take a firm stand: The budget bills on the calendar for debate didn’t raise taxes enough and cut too much from public education.

Susie Fagan / Kansas News Service

One of the cornerstones of Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to balance the budget is anticipated savings from a statewide health insurance pool for Kansas teachers.

The governor said that could save $40 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1 and $80 million a year after that.

But that’s not what the Legislative Post Audit Division discovered in its evaluation.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

It took many by surprise, but the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee passed out a bill Tuesday that would cut $154 million out of the budget by July 1, the vast majority coming from education.

Of the proposed cuts, education shoulders 98 percent of the total. More than $127 million of the cuts would come from K-12 and another $23 million from higher education. 

In Johnson County, the plan would result in millions of dollars in cuts:

On this week's Statehouse Blend Kansas, Rep. Joy Koesten (R-Leawood) talks about co-sponsoring a bill to abolish capital punishment.

Guests:

  • Joy Koesten, Representative (R-Leawood), Kansas Legislature

Brad Wilson / Flickr — CC

In the basket of thorny issues facing Kansas lawmakers how to fund public education is certainly among the thorniest.

Led by Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative Republicans, the old funding formula was scrapped two years ago in favor of a block grant scheme that expires July 1.

Starting Monday morning the House K-12 Budget Committee starts discussions on a new formula.

And with that comes some questions: 

What is this K-12 Budget Committee?

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

  On this week's Statehouse Blend Kansas, Rep. Joy Koesten (R-Leawood) talks about mental health, school funding, and taxes.

Guests:

  • Joy Koesten, Representative (R-Leawood), Kansas Legislature

Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

One critical part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget-balancing plan is creation of a statewide health insurance pool that Kansas public school teachers would have to join.

The governor’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year counts on $80 million a year in health care savings based on an efficiency study by Alvarez & Marsal consulting firm.

But some legislators, including Republicans, are skeptical.

“There’s a big difference between theory and practicality,” says Rep. Larry Campbell of Olathe, chairman of the K-12 Education Budget Committee.

KU Hospital

The University of Kansas Hospital today will go it alone in trying to get the Legislature to roll back a law that would allow almost anyone to carry a concealed gun in almost any public building.

The hospital is backing a bill (HB 2150) that carves out the facility in Kansas City, Kansas, even if lawmakers decide to let the concealed carry bill take effect on July 1. The measure does not carve out the adjoining KU Medical Center campus.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 893

On this week's Statehouse Blend Kansas, Sen. Dinah Sykes (R-Lenexa) and Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Parker) give us their freshman perspective on Governor Sam Brownback's budget proposal, concealed carry on college campuses, and a possible new school funding formula.

Guests:

File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is hoping the federal government can rescue several critical infrastructure projects that the state can no longer afford.

The Brownback administration recently sent what amounts to a wish list to President Donald Trump for inclusion in his planned infrastructure initiative. It includes the following $240 million in highway and bridge projects delayed or abandoned because of the state’s ongoing budget problems:

Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

Mothers, college professors, pastors, teachers and students packed a Capitol hearing room Thursday morning to make this plea to lawmakers: Roll back a law that in July will make it legal for almost anyone to carry a concealed gun on Kansas college campuses and in other public buildings.

So big was the roll-back contingent that many there to testify had to be hailed to the room from down the hallway.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

Budget director Shawn Sullivan joins KCUR's Statehouse Blend Kansas podcast to walk us through Governor Sam Brownback's budget proposal, and respond to reaction from the legislature. 

University of Kansas

New figures from the Kansas Board of Regents spell out just how much each university, community college and technical college would lose if the Legislature chooses to cut its way to a balanced budget this year. 

And it's a lot of money.

In total, all 37 institutions would lose out on a combined $52,546,469 if lawmakers enact an across-the-board 6.95 percent cut.

The state's current-year budget is estimated to be $362 million short and the Legislature must find that money before July.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

In what could be a blow to the road construction industry in Kansas, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) Tuesday said it will only spend $44 million on new projects in the next fiscal year.

For the past several years KDOT has let about $400 million just on preservation projects, including roads and bridges.

“It’s going to cause us additional concern about the safety and reliability of our roads, getting product to market and also providing jobs for many of the folks who are in the construction business,” says Bob Totten with the Kansas Contractors Association.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

It only took a couple of hours after President Donald J. Trump took the oath of office on Friday for about 300 people to gather on the Liberty Memorial lawn to protest his administration.

Who spoke was not a surprise: Black Lives Matter, people representing Latinos, immigrants and the LGBT community. Many wore bandanas across their faces.

The crowd was peaceful, and there were a number of parents who brought their kids.

Kansas Supreme Court

In a blow to teachers in Kansas, the state Supreme Court Friday upheld a 2014 law that stripped educators of due process before being fired.

In a unanimous ruling the court rejected an appeal by the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) that argued the law violated the constitutional ban of one bill covering more than one subject. KNEA claimed since the bill covered both appropriations and policy the act was unconstitutional.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's Statehouse Blend Kansas, budget director Shawn Sullivan walks us through Governor Sam Brownback's budget proposal, and discusses reaction from the legislature. 

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Friday morning at 11 a.m., Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

But from the moment he won the election, there has been trepidation among immigrants, both those in the country legally and illegally. That fear is a big problem in the Kansas City Public Schools.

It can be hard enough teaching in the Kansas City school district. Many students live in poverty, lots of the schools are crumbling, and there are a lack of extracurricular activities.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The number of degrees and certificates being awarded by state colleges and universities is up, as are on-time graduations.

Overall the Kansas Board of Regents seemed pleased Wednesday with its latest annual progress report.

In news that will also be very welcomed by the Legislature, the report says wages are rising for those earning either a two-year or four-year degree.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

As Kansas City Public Schools battle to improve academics, one high school is getting multi-million dollar help from the state.              

East High School just got word that it received what’s called a School Improvement Grant (SIG).

It’s federal money that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) distributes to very low performing schools.

East principal Jeff Spaletta, who’s in his first year in the district, says the $4 million grant will be used, among other things, to add classes.

Kansas Memory

On April 4, 1968, the radio and TV crackled with awful news: Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

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