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

On the 114th and final day of the Kansas legislative session, a court ruling feared by lawmakers and eagerly anticipated by most educators was handed down .

A three-judge Shawnee County District Court panel ruled Friday that block grant school funding, one of the signature issues for conservatives in the Legislature, is unconstitutional.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

On this week's Statehouse Blend, we ask former Kansas legislators to compare and contrast the Kansas legislature then and now.

Guests:

  • Kelly Kultala, Former Senator, 5th District
  • John Vratil, Former Senator, 11th District
  • Tim Owens, Former Senator, 8th District
Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Marvin Kleeb from Overland Park provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session. 

You can listen to the full episode of Statehouse Blend here.

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

If you’ve ever researched schools with the Missouri or Kansas departments of education, you know the websites are comprehensive, but a little hard to wade through.

It took three years for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City to gather the 14 million pieces of data that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Kansas State Department of Education have collected.

Just when things were starting to look a little brighter in the St. Joseph School District, the IRS has stepped into the picture.

On Monday afternoon, the district received notice from the agency saying IRS auditors will be in district headquarters for three days next month examining a wide variety of information.

According to a news release from the district, the IRS will audit documents ranging from board minutes and organizational charts to employment contracts and termination agreements.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Marvin Kleeb from Overland Park provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session. 

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Usually the Kansas Board of Regents has weeks to ponder and discuss how much students will pay in tuition and fees at its six universities. But the 113 day Kansas legislative session has forced those discussions into less than 36 hours.

Higher education leaders in the state agreed to a 3.6 percent tuition cap with lawmakers in exchange for not cutting other state funding to universities.

It didn't get the state of Kansas far in trimming the 2016 budget but higher education, the Board of Regents believes, did its part.

Gov. Sam Brownback held a news conference Tuesday to announce he has signed legislation that will raise the state's sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent. But that still leaves the state short of a balanced budget and many thought Brownback would outline cuts today.

But all he cut was $1.9 million from a Regents program called GED Accelerator. This is money that helps the state's 26 two-year institutions pay for programs that result in students receiving both a GED and an industry-recognized credential. So, a high school drop out could simultaneously finish their secondary education and, for example, earn a welding or mechanics certificate. The money goes to the institutions and not the students.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

On this week's Statehouse Blend, we ask citizens from Kansas to share their thoughts on the 2015 Kansas Legislative session.

Guests:

  • Scott Morgan, Citizen, Lawrence
  • Erin Rivers, Citizen, Mission
  • Will Averill, Citizen, Lawrence
Courtesy photo / KCPS

Kansas City Public Schools has reached inside the district for an interim superintendent to fill the shoes of outgoing Stephen Green.

The school board Wednesday night tapped Chief Financial Officer Al Tunis as interim head of the 15,000-student district.

Green is set to leave the district in a few weeks to go to Georgia. Green spoke with KCUR's Steve Kraske last week about his departure on Up To Date.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

While the broader battle over a tax plan in the Kansas Legislature continues, a few nights ago the Senate managed to slip in a last minute provision that makes it a lot easier to obtain tax credits for private and religious school scholarships in the state.

The mission of the legislation is laudable: provide scholarships to at-risk kids to go to private or parochial schools.

But there's a catch. People or corporations in the state receive a tax credit for providing the scholarship money. The state will allow up to $10 million a year in such credits.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

As a tax plan continues to elude the Kansas House of Representatives, the state is preparing for severe budget cuts in case the Legislature can’t close a $400 million budget hole.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, wanted to know just how badly an across-the-board 6.2 percent budget cut would harm schools.

The answer from the Kansas State Department of Education: $197 million statewide.

Locally, Kansas City, Kansas, schools would lose the most, $10.8 million next year.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Rep. John Wilson from Lawrence provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

This is an excerpt from Statehouse Blend. You can listen to the full episode here.

Guests:

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Rep. John Wilson from Lawrence provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

There’s probably no tougher job in education in Missouri right now than leading the scandal plagued St. Joseph School District.

So the board of education has called on a hometown hero of sorts.

Dr. Robert Newhart started his career in St. Joe, his mother is a legendary high school government teacher there and Newhart is a hall of fame football player from Missouri Western University in St. Joseph.

Even though Newhart only has a one year contract and the title of "interim superintendent" the board expects him to start cleaning up the mess.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The possible furlough of perhaps thousands of state employees in Kansas is rapidly moving forward.

Just after noon Friday, state agencies and Board of Regents schools began sending out furlough notices to workers deemed nonessential.

The executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, Rebecca Proctor, says union members from across the state have reported receiving notices.

St. Joseph School District

With its former superintendent on his way to the Missouri bootheel, the St. Joseph School Board has picked an interim superintendent it hopes can lead the district out of scandal.

Dr. Robert Newhart, a veteran administrator, was picked by the board of education in a closed session Thursday night.

While Kansas lawmakers slog their way through the budget process, many in state government continue to gear up for possible furloughs.

If a budget isn’t in place by early Sunday morning the state will be forced to furlough non-essential workers.

The executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, Rebecca Proctor, says their contract calls for 30 days notice before furloughs. Proctor says the union will take action.

Kansas State Historial Society

Talk about a house divided against itself.

Right now Republicans in the Kansas Legislature are fighting over how to close a more than $400 million budget hole.

It's a war of words, but nothing more.

That wasn't the case at the turn of the 20th century.

Wikimedia Commons

As the Kansas Legislature fights over how to balance the budget that kicks in at the end of the month, the state is preparing for possible employee furloughs.

On Wednesday, the University of Kansas sent an email to all employees outlining how the furloughs will be done and tips on how workers can file for unemployment insurance. Kansas State University sent a similar email to its staff Tuesday.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The former superintendent whose actions created the current scandals dogging the St. Joseph, Missouri, School District has landed a new job in education.

Fred Czerwonka, who was fired following a scathing state audit report, has been hired by the tiny Caruthersville School District tucked into the Bootheel of Missouri, according to Superintendent J.J. Bullington. Czerwonka's wife, Wendy, has also been hired and will teach business at the high school.

Czerwonka will be director of school services. The Czerwonkas will start their new jobs on July 1.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Melissa Rooker from Fairway returns to Statehouse Blend to provide an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

This is an excerpt from Statehouse Blend. You can listen to the full episode here.

Blue Valley School District

One of the largest school districts on the Kansas side of the metro will be searching for a new superintendent.

The Blue Valley School District, with more than 22,000 students and 1,800 teachers, says Dr. Tom Trigg is the sole finalist for the superintendent's job in the Highland Park School District in suburban Dallas.

Trigg has been with the district for 19 years and took the top job in 2004.

"We have been fortunate to have a visionary leader who wants all students to follow their dreams,” Pam Robinson, Blue Valley Board of Education president said in a statement.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Melissa Rooker from Fairway returns to Statehouse Blend to provide an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The only reason Missouri’s St. Joseph School District didn’t have the worst year of any district in the U.S. is because 11 educators in Atlanta were convicted of cheating on standardized tests to boost scores.

Despite dramatic actions over the last several months to address serious issues in the St. Joseph district, its problems are nowhere close to being resolved.

Many teachers, some board members and, most importantly, many taxpayers say the state's 11th-largest school district is no better off than it was a year ago.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

As Kansas educators await a district court ruling on the constitutionality of block grant funding passed by the Legislature this session, one local school district says it will be forced to make deep cuts.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

On this week's Statehouse Blend, reporters from the Kansas Statehouse dissect what we've seen so far and what we can expect as the session heads into overtime. 

This is an excerpt from Statehouse Blend. You can listen to the full episode here.

Guests:

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

On this week's Statehouse Blend, reporters from the Kansas Statehouse dissect what we've seen so far and what we can expect as the session heads into overtime. 

Guests:

Matthew Hodapp / KCUR

The Kansas City Police Department has quietly changed its training for responding to volatile situations, arming officers with something other than a gun: distance, discretion and diplomacy.

Even as the backlash from the high-profile police shooting in Ferguson continues to reverberate on the other side of Missouri, Kansas City has already instituted what’s called “tactical disengagement.”

Feuding motorcycle gangs have made national headlines after Sunday's deadly fight in Waco, Texas. On this edition of Up To Date, reporter Sam Zeff speaks with Steve Cook, who's with the Midwest Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association, about motorcycle clubs in the Kansas City area. 

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