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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Kansas Legislature

Primary election night was brutal for conservative Republicans in the Kansas Legislature. 

Six Republican members of the Senate lost their primaries. The more moderate candidates won two additional seats left open by conservatives who decided not to run for reelection.

Eight Republican House members were ousted in the primaries. The Kansas Chamber, which has been known to back lawmakers who align with Gov. Brownback on tax policy, had endorsed all of those defeated incumbents. Eight others the Chamber endorsed in 13 open House races also lost.

One of the school funding lawsuits that has been hanging over the head of Kansas has been dismissed.         

The lawsuit is called Petrella and was filed in federal court by a group of Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) parents.

They argued that the district, one of the wealthiest in Kansas, should be able to raise and spend as much local tax money as it wants.

Kansas law caps how much local money a district can spend.

 Julia Szabo
KCUR 89.3

The number of teachers leaving Kansas or simply quitting the profession has dramatically increased over the last four years.

The annual Licensed Personnel Report was released Tuesday by the Kansas Department of Education. While it was provided to the Board of Education meeting in Topeka Tuesday, the report was buried in board documents and not addressed by either staff or the board.

The report shows that 1,075 teachers left the profession last year, up from 669 four years ago. That's a 61 percent increase.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

  On this week's Statehouse Blend, we look back at the Kansas and Missouri Legislature's favorite songs, and what they meant in the context of the sessions. It's Statehouse Blend's Greatest Hits.

Guests:

  • C.J. Janovy, Arts Reporter, KCUR
  • Matt Hodapp, Statehouse Blend Producer, KCUR
Brad Wilson / Flickr-CC

It only took a few minutes for the Kansas State Board of Education to approve $7.2 million in extraordinary needs funding for school districts across the state. The extra money will go to 34 school districts. Three districts didn't get any money.

The six local districts who applied for the additional state aid didn't get all they wanted but still did well.

Liz / Wikimedia Commons

Schools around Kansas are just a couple of weeks from opening for the new school year, but about three dozen districts say they need more state aid and have applied for extraordinary needs funding.

In all, 37 districts are asking for about $8.4 million from the state Board of Education. There is about $15 million in the pool. All districts contribute a small portion of their state aid to the pool.

Two of the biggest requests come from the two of the smaller districts in this area: Spring Hill in Johnson County and Basehor-Linwood in Leavenworth County. 

Americans tend to think that each election is a littler dirtier than the last. Certainly that is the feeling among many candidates running for the Kansas Legislature as attack postcards fill mailboxes as the Aug. 2 primary quickly approaches.

This year the postcards often focus on education. Who is for kids and who is against them? Let's use the Republican primary for House District 21, which includes Prairie Village, Mission Hills plus chunks of Overland Park and Leawood, as an example.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's episode of Statehouse Blend, Kansas Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) talks about presidential politics, schools, and tax policy.

Guests:

Meet Democrats Bill Hutton and Don Terrien competing to oust incumbent Republican Senator Steve Fitzgerald to represent Kansas Senate District 5.

While she comes from a writing family, Delia Ephron didn't start her writing career until her thirties. Since then she's made up for lost time, writing and producing screenplays, plays, books for children and adults and movies. Her latest novel, Siracusa, is already being adapted into a film.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Everyone knows agriculture is huge in Kansas.

It’s a $62 billion a year industry that accounts for 43 percent of the Kansas economy and touches every part of the state.

Following the 2012 Brownback tax cuts, farmers no longer had to pay state income tax -- just like 334,000 LLCs, S corporations and sole proprietorships.

The 'Grand Narrative' Of The Cuban Revolution

Jul 26, 2016

In late 1950s, Fidel Castro and his rebellion overthrew an authoritarian, American-backed government, and the Castro government claimed to have unflinching support from the Cubans since then. We talk with historian Lillian Guerra who discovered, through her research over the span of 18 years, that dissents have prevailed despite government dictatorship.

Guest:

A brawl is underway in Kansas’ ‘Big First’ congressional district, which covers more than half of the state. Republican incumbent Tim Huelskamp is fighting to keep his seat against an outsider who recently landed a big endorsement.

Guest:

  • Peggy Lowe is the investigations editor for Harvest Public Media, which is based at KCUR. 
Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

  On this week's episode of Statehouse Blend, Kansas Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) talks about presidential politics, schools, and tax policy.

Guests:

YouTube

The man who has testified dozens of times in the Kansas Legislature saying that public schools are over-funded, administrators and some teachers make too much money and school districts operate inefficiently, once called for lawmakers to raise taxes to improve schools.

Dave Trabert now runs the Kansas Policy Institute and is a powerful voice among conservative lawmakers. On its website, KPI calls itself "an independent think-tank that advocates for free market solutions and the protection of personal freedom for all Kansans." 

You think this Republican National Convention is full of drama? The 1976 convention at Kemper Arena was the last contested party convention. It pitted President Gerald Ford, who rose to the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned, against Ronald Reagan, who was becoming the darling of conservatives.

Guests:

There are two things a new business can’t do without: a great idea, and money. Lucky for us, Kansas City’s got a vibrant entrepreneurial community, but what about that second piece of the puzzle? We examine the availability and accessibility of start-up capital in the metro.

Guests:

The Shawnee Mission School District and its teachers were unable Wednesday to reach a deal on compensation, so the talks will now go to a federal mediator, according to the teachers union.

The negotiations fell apart when the union asked for a $1,350 stipend for teachers who won't get a raise next year as they progress through the salary schedule.

“Most people who go to work and work hard like to see some sort of increase to keep up, in the very least, with the cost of living,” says union president Linda Sieck.

The Comedy Trio Behind "Drunk Trump" Videos

Jul 20, 2016

The first "Drunk Trump" video has captured over 1.2 million views since it was posted to YouTube last October. We talk with the comedy trio behind its creation and learn what the inspiration was for that and the other videos they create through their Friend Dog Studios.

Guests:

Updated 5:21 p.m.

For the second time in two months, a Kansas City, Kansas, police officer was killed in the line of duty.

He died Tuesday just before 3:00 p.m. at KU Hospital.

The officer was identified as Capt. Robert Melton.

Melton was shot at 22nd and Haskell in KCK after pursuing a vehicle believed to be involved in a drive-by shooting, according to KCKPD Chief Terry Zeigler. “As Capt. Melton was arriving the suspects bailed from the vehicle and opened fire striking Capt. Melton and fatally wounding him.”

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

This week I did a story on a group of Democrats and moderate Republicans who are already working on a new school finance formula in advance of the 2017 session which will gavel in come January.

The story was based on an interview I did with Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly from Topeka on KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Kelly is the senate minority whip.

The year after a mass shooting sees a 15% increase in the number of gun bills introduced in state legislatures, an effect 66 times greater than that following an individual dying in a homicide.  We examine what determines which bills actually become law and who is more likely to pass them.

Guest:

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Dorothy Hughes and Neil Melton are the Republican candidates facing off in the Kansas District 21 House race in northeast Johnson County. Guest host Sam Zeff gets their positions on education, tax breaks and more on the run up to the primary on August 2. 

KHI News Service

While most Kansas educators are still breathing a sigh of relief that the school funding equity issue was solved in a special session and public schools could remain open, some lawmaker are already looking ahead to the new session in January.

Sen. Laura Kelly, the minority whip from Topeka, says a small bipartisan group has already begun meeting to draft a new school funding formula to replace block grants, which expire at the end of this fiscal year.

The plan, drafted by Democrats and moderate Republicans, is based a great deal on the old formula.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about the University of Kansas Medical Center: For almost 40 years KU doctors have been flying around the state to bring their expertise to small towns.

But in another unintended consequence, budget cuts in Kansas have drastically cut back this service.

About 6:45 a.m. on an already steamy June morning, seven KU Med staffers pile on a twin-engine King Air at the Downtown Kansas City Airport.

Cramped but certainly comfortable, they're about to take off on a 40 minute flight to Hutchinson.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

Do you remember not long ago when Kansas was on the edge of facing a public education shutdown? Many feared schools would be closed July 1. Some even believed they may not be open for the start of the school year in August.

The unconstitutional inequity between rich and poorer districts appeared to be a problem the Legislature couldn't solve.

KHI News Service

The Vice President of the Kansas Senate says the special session set to gavel in on Thursday will probably stretch into early next week. That would move the Legislature even closer to a June 30 school shutdown deadline, and make the session longer than Gov. Sam Brownback suggested it would take to fix the inequity that exists between rich and poor school districts in Kansas.

“We’re probably looking at more like three to five days if all goes well,” Sen. Jeff King from Independence said on KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend.

The Kansas Board of Regents met Wednesday afternoon to approve tuition increases for the next school year. The board thought it was going to do that last month, but during the meeting Gov. Sam Brownback announced he was cutting an additional $30 million out of higher education.

So, at their last regular meeting until September, the Regents found themselves having to approve even higher tuition hikes.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

The man who spent 14 years in the top job in the St. Joseph School District pleaded guilty Monday morning in federal court to one count of wire fraud. Under a deal with the U.S. Attorney, Dan Colgan will spend a year and a day in federal prison.

Colgan will also have to repay $660,000 in a lump sum to the Missouri Public School Retirement System (PSRS). Colgan improperly padded the last three years of his salary using stipends, car allowances and other means. The school board knew about some of the payments but often they did not.

After two years of investigation, a former St. Joseph School District superintendent and school board president will be charged with a federal crime.

Dan Colgan who, associates say grew up as a brawler on St. Joseph's north side, has two court dates Monday morning in federal court in Kansas City.

According to the district court, Colgan will appear before a magistrate and then before a district court judge. While we don't know exactly what he'll be charged with, these hearings indicate a plea deal is in the works.

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