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
3:45 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Kansas Senate Bill Has Educators Worried

A bill filed Tuesday would cut state aid to Kansas school districts in the current fiscal year.
Credit 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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Statehouse Blend
10:14 am
Tue January 27, 2015

Statehouse Blend: Kansas Rep. Melissa Rooker

Credit Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Melissa Rooker provides an insider perspective on the historic legislative session underway in Topeka.


  • Melissa Rooker, Representative for the 25th District, Kansas Legislature
  • Brian Schmid​, citizen voice
  • Matthew Long-Middleton, producer, Central Standard
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St. Joseph School District
10:04 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

St. Joseph School Superintendent, COO Placed On Administrative Leave

St. Joseph School District Superintendent Dr. Fred Czerwonka has been placed on administrative leave.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Update: Jan. 22, 2:25 pm

The St. Joseph School District has confirmed that Superintendent Fred Czerwonka and Chief Operating Officer Rick Hartigan are now on administrative leave.

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3:52 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

Cuts To K-12 Education In Kansas Revised Upwards

Cuts to K-12 education in Kansas could be $127 million next fiscal year.
Credit alamosbasement / Flickr--CC

Funding cuts to public schools in Kansas may be more severe than education observers first thought.

Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed that the legislature rewrite the state's school funding formula. While that happens, he has proposed funding K-12 education in fiscal 2016 with block grants.

But a new analysis just released Wednesday by the Kansas Department of Education says money from the state for classroom instruction will be reduced by $127 million next year.

Initially, the department’s analysis had pegged the loss at $107 million.

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7:41 pm
Tue January 20, 2015

St. Joseph School Board Meets In Tense, Day-Long Session

The St. Joseph School Board meets in executive session to discuss a scathing audit and personnel issues.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The St. Joseph School Board spent a tense eight hours behind closed doors Tuesday.

Board members spent more than five hours with investigators from the Missouri State Auditors office, going through the 49-page draft report page-by-page.

Those who’ve seen the report won’t discuss specific recommendations but describe it as "scathing."

After the meeting, board president Brad Haggard refused to discuss the audit's findings or recommendations. The district will write a response that will become part of the report.

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St. Joseph School District
1:03 pm
Mon January 19, 2015

St. Joseph School Board To Review 'Scathing' Audit

The St. Joseph School Board will review a state audit report in executive session Tuesday.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Officials in the St. Joseph School District have been nervously waiting for months for a report from the Missouri State Auditor.

KCUR has learned that the report is back and the board will discuss it Tuesday in executive session.

The Missouri State Auditor moved a five-member team into district headquarters last Spring after it was revealed that the new St. Joseph school superintendent, Dr. Fred Cerwonka, handed out $5,000 stipends to 54 administrators without seeking board approval.

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10:18 am
Sat January 17, 2015

Kansas Educators Confused About Governor's Budget Proposal

Kansas educators are confused over Gov. Brownback's proposed budget.
Credit Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The watch word for school funding in Kansas is now block grants. But how that will work remains a mystery to educators.

Gov. Sam Brownback wants to scrap the current per pupil funding formula which, he says, is complicated and inefficient.

While lawmakers try to write a new formula, Brownback proposes to give school districts lump sum payments over the next two fiscal years equal to about what they receive now.

Across the state, that’s $3 billion in aid to local school districts.

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9:47 am
Fri January 16, 2015

Hickman Mills School District Closer To Full Accreditation

The Hickman Mills School District is getting closer to full state accreditation.
Credit Brad Wilson / Flickr-CC

The Hickman Mills School District in south Kansas City, Mo., appears to be inching closer to full accreditation.

Hickman Mills lost its full accreditation after several years of dismal test scores.

At the State Board of Education meeting Thursday Hickman Mills and two other districts updated their improvement plans.

Between the 2012-13 school year and 2013-2014 Hickman Mills made huge improvements on test scores and college and career readiness.

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5:40 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Tensions Ease Between Charter Schools And Kansas City Public Schools

Fourth grade students at Gordon Parks Elementary School listen while Kansas City, Mo. Mayor Sly James reads.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Last week a group of parents in Midtown Kansas City realized a dream: they raised enough money to get two new charter schools off the ground.

There was a time when such an announcement would be met with suspicion and perhaps even hostility from the Kansas City Public Schools.

Superintendent Steve Green says the district saw itself as a target.

"We isolated ourselves. It’s sometimes a typical response when you’re wounded or in some way hurting you isolate yourself. But it’s probably the last thing you should do," he says.

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Kansas Budget
9:39 am
Sat January 10, 2015

Kansas Budget May Be Stressed Says Bond Rating Agency

A major bond-rating agency says the budget problems in Kansas are getting worse and indicates budget stress.

Standard and Poor's issued its latest report on the Kansas budget Friday and says much of the concern comes from a court ruling on school funding.

S&P says a ruling from a three-judge Shawnee County Court panel could cost the state another $500 million a year in school funding.

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1:55 pm
Fri January 9, 2015

St. Joseph School District Property Tax Levy In Peril

A new poll shows part of a property tax levy in the St. Joseph School District in trouble with patrons.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Taxpayers in the St. Joseph, Mo., school district are opposed to renewing part of property tax levy that would cost the district $6.5 million.

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4:15 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

New Charter Schools For Midtown Kansas City Closer To Reality

Two new charter elementary schools are planned for Midtown Kansas City.
Credit Brad Wilson / Flickr-CC

An idea born around a kitchen table a year-and-a-half ago to create charter schools in midtown Kansas City for parents who want to live in the city got a huge boost Thursday.

The Midtown Community Schools Initiative says it will open two charter elementary schools in the 2016 school year.

To get off the ground, the group will draw on $2.6 million in grants from the Kauffman Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Midtown co-founder Kristin Littrell says these schools will keep families in the city.

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2:39 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

Kansas Attorney General Sues Over Alleged School Book Scam

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt sues a New Jersey firm over an alleged text book scam.
Credit Kansas Attorney General's Office

The Kansas Attorney General is suing a New Jersey company for allegedly scamming more than 300 schools in the state.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed a civil suit in Shawnee County District Court against Robert Armstrong who runs Scholastic School Supply out of Franklinville, N.J.

The scam, according to the lawsuit, was simple and worked liked this: The company would send an invoice to a school for text books that the school never ordered.

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Kansas Legislature
5:38 am
Thu January 8, 2015

Battle Over School Funding Looms Over Kansas Legislature

The K-12 School Efficiency Commission was a preview of the budget battle to come in the Kansas Legislature.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The Kansas Legislature gets back to work Monday, and when lawmakers arrive in Topeka they will be consumed by two things: budget deficits and education.

Where those two intersect may prove to be the hot spot of the legislative session.

A preview of the coming budget battle was clear at the final meeting of the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission Monday at the statehouse.

The commission was supposed to figure out ways for Kansas school districts to save money that could be plowed back into the classroom.

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4:00 pm
Tue January 6, 2015

Commission Recommends Yearly Compliance Audits For Kansas School Districts

The final meeting of the Kansas K-12 Efficiency Commission meets in the statehouse in Topeka
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

A commission set up to make Kansas school districts more efficient released its final report to the Legislature Tuesday.

The commission was created as part of a political compromise last session that put a court ordered $179 million more into Kansas schools.

The commission, which has been meeting since July, recommended two pieces of legislation. Neither would show any short-term savings.

One would establish a semi-permanent efficiency task force that would require yearly compliance audits for all school districts.

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6:00 am
Mon January 5, 2015

Kansas School Boards Gear Up For Funding Fight

School boards in Kansas are gearing up for a school funding fight in the Legislature
Credit Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

School board members from across Kansas are gearing up to fight for more funding when the state Legislature convenes on Jan. 12.

The Kansas Association of School Boards is using a court ruling handed down last week to makes its case.

A three-judge panel from Shawnee County was clear in its decision: schools in Kansas are unconstitutionally underfunded and more money must be spent.

Exactly how much and where that money will come from is being left up to the Legislature.

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High Education
3:25 pm
Fri January 2, 2015

Fort Hays State Among The Nation's Least-Expensive Universities

Fort Hays State is one of the least expensive universities in the country for in-state students
Credit Fort Hays State

Trying to figure out how to pay for college?

Turns out one of the best deals in the country is in Kansas.

When it comes to higher education in Kansas, most of the attention centers on the University of Kansas or Kansas State University.

But there are three other regent schools in the state. And according to U.S. News and World Report, for in-state students, Fort Hays State University has the second-lowest tuition and fees in the country.

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6:00 am
Thu January 1, 2015

Missouri High-Poverty Schools Get Low Marks

States are studying federal data on educator equality in high poverty schools versus low poverty schools
Credit Lauren Manning / Flickr--CC

In the next six months, state education officials will be poring over recently released data on whether students in high-poverty schools are getting the same quality of teaching as kids in low-poverty schools.

The U.S. Department of Education recently released something it calls Education Equity Profiles for all 50 states. They compare teacher data in high-poverty and high-minority schools with teacher data in low-poverty and low-minority schools.

Missouri fares worse than many other states.

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School Funding
1:56 pm
Tue December 30, 2014

Judges Rule Kansas School Funding Inadequate

Shawnee County District Court panel rules Kansas needs to spend more money on K-12 education
Credit Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A much-anticipated court ruling that could profoundly change how much Kansas spends on public schools was announced Tuesday afternoon – and it's bad news for state lawmakers.

A three-judge panel from Shawnee County ruled that while the formula for funding K-12 education is fine, lawmakers have failed to properly fund it.

The panel says per pupil base aid might need to go as high as $4,980. Current base aid per pupil is $3,833. That means the Legislature might have to come up with at least another $522 million to satisfy the court.

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6:00 am
Mon December 29, 2014

Johnson County Election Office Gears Up To Manage A Mountain Of Paper

Johnson County will mail 330,000 ballots, the most paper ballots in county history
Credit Dan Verbeck / KCUR

You probably don’t know it, but Johnson County is in the middle of one of its biggest election challenges ever.

The county election office says it will mail ballots to more than 330,000  voters in a mail-election on whether school districts should be allowed to increase how much of their budgets can be raised from local property taxes.

County Election Commissioner Brian Newby says he expects half of those ballots to be returned. That means officials will be handling more paper ballots then they ever have.

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6:00 am
Thu December 25, 2014

Major Mail-In Election Slated For Johnson County Schools

Credit alamosbasement / Flickr--CC

Starting Friday the Johnson County Election office will mail about 330,000 ballots to voters in five county school districts.

The districts want to make permanent an increase in their local option budgets.

School districts have two main sources of money. Most funds come from the state, but districts can also raise local money from property taxes.

But the state limits how much a school district can tax locally.

Last year, the Legislature raised the limit from 31 percent to 33 percent of a district’s budget.

Read more
4:02 pm
Mon December 22, 2014

ACLU Sues Kansas City Public Schools Over Ferguson Protest

The ACLU is suing Kansas City Public Schools over a protest at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy.
Credit Courtesy photo / Kansas City Public Schools

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Monday against Kansas City Public Schools over a November protest at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy. 

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Central Standard
1:18 pm
Mon December 22, 2014

Halfway To Graduation: Class Of 2015 Check-In

Harold Burgos, Sache Hawkins and Ashwanth Samuel are on the brink of going places. But where?
Credit Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR

Central Standard is following three high school seniors through the trials and triumphs leading up to graduation. Catch up with Ashwanth Samuel, Harold Burgos and Sache Hawkins on internships, waiting to hear back from colleges, career dreams, school lunch, juggling coursework with outside interests, senior-itis, and what grown-ups don't know about high school today. Plus, one of these seniors surprised us with an early graduation in December.

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10:59 am
Fri December 19, 2014

Kansas State Tapped As Best University Marching Band In U.S.

Kansas State University has won the prestigious Sudler Trophy as the best university marching band in America
Credit Courtesy photo / Kansas State University

The Kansas State University marching band won one of the most prestigious music awards in the country Friday.

The Sudler Trophy is given every two years by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation to the university band with the highest musical standards, innovative routines and that's made contributions to the American way of life, according to the foundation website.

"It’s an award that people in the athletic band world covet. It’s really considered  sort of a lifetime achievement award in the marching band area," said Dr. Gary Mortenson, director of K-State's School of Music.

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10:45 am
Thu December 18, 2014

Room And Board To Increase At Kansas Regent Universities

Faculty, staff, students and community members gather for the dedication of Wichita State University's new Shocker Hall.
Credit Sean Sandefur / KMUW - Wichita Public Radio

Room and board is going up at the six Regent universities in Kansas.

The Kansas Board of Regents unanimously approved the hike at its regular meeting Wednesday in Topeka. Next year students will be paying about 3 percent more for dorm rooms and meals.

Some schools are hiking the price a little more than others.

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5:36 am
Wed December 17, 2014

The Coolest Rock Concert In Kansas City You Never Knew About

The Who opened for the Buckinghams at Shawnee Mission South High School in November 1967
Credit Courtesy photo / Shawnee Mission South

There have been plenty of huge and even historic rock concerts in Kansas City: The Beatles at Municipal Stadium in 1964; the kick off of Michael Jackson’s Victory tour in 1984.

But how about The Who at Shawnee Mission South High School Nov. 17, 1967?

"People cannot believe that The Who was in a Kansas high school," says Vallie Hogan, a 1968 graduate of South. "They just don’t believe it."

The band opened with "Can’t Explain" and ended with "My Generation."

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5:48 am
Mon December 15, 2014

St. Joseph, Missouri School District's Legal And Political Troubles Mount

Over the last several months, legal and political troubles have been mounting for the St. Joseph School District.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The St. Joseph, Mo., school district is heading into perhaps the most difficult and trying few months in its history.

As the district’s legal troubles get both deeper and broader, much of the time and effort of the Board of Education and the administration is consumed by remediation and litigation.

Here's just one example.

At a regular board meeting earlier this month all seemed normal. First the Pledge of Allegiance followed by recognition of district Special Olympians.  

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5:20 pm
Wed December 10, 2014

St. Joseph School District To Lose $2 Million In State Aid

The St. Joseph School District's summer school program is under scrutiny by the State of Missouri.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Update, Dec. 18:

The St. Joseph School District filed an action plan Monday with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In the letter to St. Joseph superintendent Dr. Fred Czerwona outlining the summer school programs the state disallowed, DESE required a plan from the district to make sure these mistakes don't happen again.

Czerwonka sent a one page letter to DESE saying, among other things, the district will review the summer school handbook every year and any changes will be reviewed by DESE.

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4:00 pm
Wed December 10, 2014

Missouri Denied Federal Early Childhood Development Grant

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received some bad news Wednesday.

Its application for a $17.5 million grant to boost the number of children in state-funded early childhood education programs was turned down by the U.S. Department of Education.

The grants were announced in conjunction with a Dec. 10 White House summit on early childhood development. Eighteen states will share $226 million in federal grants to either develop state pre-kindergarten programs or expand existing programs.

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Missouri General Assembly
2:04 pm
Tue December 2, 2014

Common Core, District Accreditation Topics Of Debate When Lawmakers Return

Two bills already have been filed for 2015 session that would drastically change education in Missouri.
Credit Wickipedia-CC

Missouri legislators don’t return to Jefferson City for another month, but two bills that would make big changes to education in the state already have been filed.

One would drastically change the way school districts are accredited and another would stir the controversy around Common Core standards.

Rep. David Wood, a Republican from Versailles in mid-Missouri, pre-filed a bill that would require the state to accredit individual schools rather than entire districts.

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