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.

Kansas Legislature

Republican Kansas Rep. John Rubin from Shawnee, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

While this case has been hanging over the state for the past five years much of the hearing Thursday before a three judge panel in Shawnee County District Court was spent on what has happened in just the past few months.

The four school districts suing the state, including Kansas City, Kansas, have asked the panel to halt further implementation of block grant funding, a school finance plan just passed this year by the legislature.

Block grants would essentially freeze funding for schools across the state while a new formula is written by lawmakers.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Rep. Nancy Lusk from Overland Park, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

You can listen to the full podcast here.

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

There’s a school funding showdown Thursday in a Kansas courtroom.

Two court cases have been a huge part of the debate in the state over how much the legislature should spend on public education. But the real battle is between Kansas history and modern state politics.

When the hearing begins in Shawnee County District Court in Topeka there will be complicated testimony and evidence all lashed together with mind numbing legalese.

There’s a blizzard of paper with captions like: Plaintiff’s Response to Motion to Add to the Record on Remand.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Rep. Nancy Lusk from Overland Park, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Dr. Fred Czerwonka, on paid administrative leave for the past 90 days as superintendent of the St. Joseph School District, abruptly resigned late Friday night.

But in one final twist to his rocky tenure, Czerwonka's letter of resignation was not sent to school board members but to the St. Joseph News Press.

"I hope my resignation can allow the District to move forward with the hiring of my successor. I look forward to continuing the good work I have been put here by God to do," Czerwonka wrote in a letter address to board president Brad Haggard.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Next week Kansas lawmakers will resume hammering out a budget for next year and trying to fill a $400 million deficit over the next two years.

But school districts all over the state are already feeling some pain.

Lower than expected revenue has already resulted in school budgets being cut for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

A new tally from the Kansas Association of School Boards shows 26 districts across the state that have either cut spending or anticipates doing so in the next eight weeks.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Stephanie Clayton from Overland Park, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

Guests:

alamosbasement / Flickr--CC

While Kansas schools are paying close attention to the state budget, they’re also tracking an ongoing court case that could drastically change the education funding picture in the state.

On the same day the new consensus revenue estimate for the next three years was released Monday, a three-judge panel in Shawnee County once again made it clear it was a player in school finance.

In an email sent to lawyers in the case, the panel reminded them that it will hear testimony at a May 7 hearing on all outstanding K-through-12 finance issues. That includes block grant legislation passed this session and how much the Legislature will spend on public schools.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

There’s probably not an educator in Kansas who isn’t waking up this morning with a bit of queasiness.

Monday is the day of the consensus revenue estimate, an awful bureaucratic phrase that has far reaching, real-world effects.

Economists from state government and academia will lock themselves in a room in Topeka and they will look into the future.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Stephanie Clayton from Overland Park, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

Guests:

Kansas will not, for the time being, change the way it licenses teachers in a half-dozen districts around the state.

Those districts have what’s known as innovative status.

The Legislature passed Innovative District legislation two years ago. It allows those districts the state has granted innovative status to ignore most state laws and regulations to see if they can come up with new programs to boost outcomes.

Kansas City Public Schools

New life has been breathed into a potential partnership between the Kansas City Public Schools and the area's most successful charter school.

On Monday, the Academie Lafayette board received a $2 million offer of support from the Stowers Foundation to try and revive a partnership that would involve the Southwest Early College Campus on Wornall Road.

The offer apparently took both the Academie Lafayette board and KCPS administration by surprise.

"It was not on the agenda for the meeting. It was unexpected,"  Lafayette spokeswoman Sarah Guthrie says.

Lauren Manning / Flickr--CC

Four Kansas school districts will end the school year early because state aid has been cut for the fiscal year ending June 30.

The Smoky Valley School District in Lindsborg, just south of Salina, which serves about 1,000 students, says it will close three days early due to a $162,000 budget cut.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Rep. Jarrod Ousley from Merriam, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

Guests:

St. Joesph School District

The St. Joseph School District, wrapped up in scandals and criminal investigations, has put at least one legal headache behind it.

The district has settled a slander lawsuit with CFO Beau Musser for $450,000. Far less than many expected.

The lawsuit named former superintendent Fred Czerwonka, former HR director Doug Flowers and current school board member Dennis Snethen. Czerwonka has been fired and Flowers demoted. Snethen remains on the board.

In the eight page agreement, nobody admits any wrongdoing.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR

While it doesn’t get talked about much, one of the most important predicators for academic success is wealth.

Students who come from families with some means and comfort generally do better than kids who live below or near the poverty line.

One of the easiest places to see the contrast is along County Line Road which divides Johnson and Wyandotte Counties in Kansas.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

For the past few years, when we talked about education in Kansas it was all about money.

Is the state spending too much or too little? Are districts efficient? Is the school funding formula flawed And what does this have to do with student outcomes?

Turns out, not as much as you think.

"The most important factor is the education of the parents," says Professor John Rury from the University of Kansas School of Education.

For decades, his research shows, parents in Johnson County have generally been way more educated than parents in other parts of the metro.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

On this week's Statehouse Blend, what we've seen so far in the Kansas Legislative session, and what we can expect when we return from spring break. 

Guests:

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Rep. Dennis "Boog" Highberger from Lawrence, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

Guests:

St. Joseph School District

The embattled St. Joseph Board of Education Thursday night appears to have put one of its many legal problems behind it.

The board voted 5-0 to settle a lawsuit filed by CFO Beau Musser after he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct.

"We are relieved that we are at this point," said board member Chris Danford.

The amount of the settlement was not released. But it appears there are still a few details to work out.

Musser was one of the whistle-blowers on $270,000 in stipends secretly given to 54 top administrations last spring by former superintendent Fred Czerwonka.

According to his lawsuit, Musser was worried that the board was kept in the dark about the stipends and concerned it may violate Missouri law.

When he brought those concerns to Czerwonka and HR director Doug Flowers he was accused of misconduct. According to the lawsuit, Czerwonka and Flowers offered to buy out Musser's contract in return for his silence on the stipends.

Brad Wilson / Flickr-CC

Not 12 hours after Gov. Sam Brownback signed legislation that would fund public schools in Kansas with block grants, the law has been challenged in court.

The motion was filed in Shawnee County District Court by several schools districts, including Kansas City, Kan., which have sued the state claiming it is under funding K-12 public education.

The motion alleges the block grant law violates the Kansas Constitution because it freezes funding for the next two years. A three-judge panel has ruled that the state failed to provide enough money to adequately educate students. 

The federal investigation into the St. Joseph School District has widened to include another district in the state.

The West Plains School District in south-central Missouri has been served with a subpoena from a federal grand jury sitting in Kansas City.

The subpoena in West Plains came at the same time that the grand jury issued a fourth subpoena for documents from the St. Joseph district.

Sources say the latest subpoena in St. Joseph demands expense reports and time sheets for some top administrators and contracts from certain district vendors.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The legal woes of the St. Joseph School District continue after a fourth federal grand jury subpoena was issued to the district.

This latest subpoena, according to sources, demands documents ranging from expense reports and time sheets of some top district administrators to contracts with district vendors.

The FBI and the U.S. attorney in Kansas City have been investigating the district for almost a year.

Previous subpoenas have sought records of district maintenance workers after allegations that some employees were doing work for administrators at their homes during school hours.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It's hard to keep up with how schools in Kansas might be funded.

First it was a debate over block grants. Now it's a new plan that's mostly based on graduate outcomes.

The new funding formula legislation is a result of months of meetings between Sen. Steve Abrams of Arkansas City, chairman of the senate Education Committee, and educators from around the state.

It would base funding on student population and factors such as poverty, something superintendents and school board members stressed was important.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Tom Phillips from Manhattan, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

Now that it appears block grants will replace the current school funding formula in Kansas, work has already begun on a new formula.

The block grants, which moved swiftly through the Legislature, were always meant to be a bridge between the current formula and a new one set to go into effect in two years.

This week a bill from Senate Education Committee chairman Steve Abrams, a Republican from Arkansas City, will start to be worked on.

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:

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