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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It's no surprise to parents, but the cost of a college education continues to rise.

The College Board issued a report Thursday showing the average in-state student paid $9,139 in 2013-2014. That's up 17 percent in the past five years, according to the report.

In-state students in Kansas and Missouri fare a little better.

The average cost in Kansas is $8,086. That's up 16 percent in the past five years.

In Missouri, in-state students paid $8,383 last year. But that's an increase of only five percent in the last five years.

Andy Marso / KHI News Service

This week some very dire budget predictions came out of Topeka: In the next two years Kansas may come up $1 billion short of expenses.

But that’s in the future. Right now the state has to find $279 million.

When budget experts gathered Monday, school districts all across Kansas were watching closely.

They knew if the projected budget shortfall for the rest of this fiscal year was bad, they faced potential cuts in state funding.

Not next year but this year — money already budgeted would be lost.

Cody Newill / KCUR

New figures from the U.S. Department of Education show that homelessness among American students has sky-rocketed by 58 percent in the past five years.

While the problem is at its worst in urban school districts the government data reveals that, for the first time, rural and suburban school districts are dealing with homelessness on a large scale. 

There are now an estimated 1.3 million homeless students in this country.

Sam Zeff / KCU

A summer jobs program for low-income youth is expanding in Jackson County.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says 1,500 slots will be available to workers age 18 to 24 in the county.

Last year, using federal grant money, workers were hired to spruce up local parks. This year, Nixon says, there’s more jobs available and so the state is looking for private partners.

File Photo / KCUR

Incumbent Pat Roberts held on to his U.S. Senate seat Tuesday after besting Independent Greg Orman.

It was a surprisingly easy win for Roberts after a bruising battle to keep a place in Washington he's had for three decades.

Roberts made his victory speech at the Republican watch party in Topeka.

"We said for months the road to a Republican majority in the United States Senate lead through Kansas and we did it," said Roberts.

With all precincts reporting, Roberts beat Orman 53 percent to 43 percent.

MoDOT / Flickr--CC

Even before the Royals made it to the World Series by sweeping Baltimore, something was happening to how America saw Kansas City.

This summer, The Huffington Post named Kansas City the 'coolest' city in America and the World Series has just made the spotlight brighter.

Kansas City, it seems, has a whole new reputation. It's a hidden gem, the place to visit, the new "it" town.

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With the Royals in the World Series you might think that Kansas City has never been quite this excited about anything.

Everywhere you look there’s Royals blue.

But if you think Kansas City is baseball crazy now, you should have seen 1955 when the Athletics arrived from Philadelphia.

Jeff Logan, president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society says the whole city turned out when the team flew in from its spring training site in Florida.

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The Kansas City area has a long and rich baseball history.

This year's Royals team is just another chapter.

With that in mind, this longtime Kansas City baseball fan came up with a list of the top 10 Big Leaguers who hail from Kansas City.

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We all knew education was going to be an important issue in the race for Kansas governor.

But in the last three weeks of the campaign it just might turn out to 'the' issue.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, have charged each other with dastardly education deeds for weeks.

At a news conference last month in Topeka, Davis accused the governor of cutting education funding.

“All we’ve gotten from Gov. Brownback on education is deep cuts and failed leadership," he said.

woodleywonderworks / Wikimedia-CC

Everyone, it seems, wants more children to attend pre-kindergarten.

Just last week President Barack Obama called for 6 million more high quality early childhood education slots by the end of the decade.

But the United States now has fewer children in state-funded pre-K programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. About 28 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled across the country. Overall there were 4,301 fewer children in pre-K classes in 2013 when compared to the previous year.

Sarah Gilbert / Flickr--CC

The state of Missouri is going after a multi-million dollar federal grant that would pay for more children to go to high-quality preschool programs.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says it has applied for a $17.5 million Preschool Development Grant.

This is the same grant program that Kansas said no to last month.

Most educators agree that high-quality pre-school is crucial to improving education at all levels.

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University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little moved quickly to place Kappa Sigma fraternity on interim suspension after allegations of a sexual assault at the house over the weekend.

Lawrence police say the alleged crime was reported early Monday morning. According to the university, Gray-Little authorized the interim suspension letter Tuesday. That letter was hand delivered to the Kappa Sigma house. The action and police investigation were announced Wednesday.

The university's Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access is also investigating.

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There are two big issues in the race for Kansas governor this year: How to fund education and how to grow the economy.

Republican incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback is standing firm on cutting taxes to boost the economy.

Brownback has cut income taxes for individuals and eliminated them for small businesses. He says this will spur business development and thus the economy will grow.

But House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Davis has a very different idea.

Davis says he will drive economic growth by spending more on education.

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Two Kansas City metro schools have been named National Blue Ribbon schools by the U.S. Department of Education.

Only 337 schools across the county were named National Blue Ribbon winners.

Some were named for excelling in academics and others for closing achievement gaps.

Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in the Kansas City, Mo., school district was named. This is the second time the prestigious magnet school has won a Blue Ribbon. It was last awarded one in 2008.

The other metro school was Our Lady of Presentation Catholic School in Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Yassie / Wikimedia Commons

Later this week, the University of Missouri Board of Curators will vote on a plan to change the way sexual assault and harassment complaints are handled.

But some faculty members say the process is moving forward a little too quickly.

University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe is proposing a change that would require schools to investigate sexual harassment or discrimination cases within 60 days.

The proposal before the curators also would widen which employees must report harassment to the administration and change the hearing process.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Thursday morning Ford announced it was adding 1,200 jobs at its Claycomo, Mo., plant because of surging demand for the company’s new Transit van.

Ford says Transit van sales have grown every month since it was introduced.

With hundreds of United Auto Workers union members looking on, John Hinrichs, Ford president in the Americas, said by the end of the year there will be 6,000 UAW jobs in Claycomo.

That makes it the assembly giant in the company.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is jumping into an area it’s never tackled.

At a packed event at the Chamber's Union Station headquarters, Chamber President Roshann Parris said the organization has a new item for its Big 5 agenda of civic goals: making sure every child in the metropolitan area is ready for kindergarten.

"No single issue impacts the health and vitality of our regional community and regional workforce more than education," Parris said.

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There’s been a push in the past couple of years to improve both the access to and quality of pre-kindergarten education.

Now the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce will jump into that effort and add early childhood development to its Big Five initiative.

Chamber President Roshann Parris says after meeting for months with area school superintendents, education researchers and, of course, business people, members decided that the best place to put their considerable clout and resources was in pre-K education.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Everyone knew education was going to be an issue in the race for Kansas governor.

In debates and TV commercials, Republican incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback says he’s increased spending on public schools. His Democratic challenger, House Minority leader Paul Davis from Lawrence, claims Brownback has cut funding.

www.audio-luci-store.it / Flickr--CC

Teach Great, the Rex Sinqufield-backed campaign to drastically change the way teachers are evaluated in Missouri, has shut down.

Last week, late in the day on Sept. 9, Teach Great spokesperson Kate Casas issued a statement saying the organization would not pursue the Amendment 3 campaign. She said that instead Teach Great would embark on a statewide listening tour and that it looked forward to working with elected officials on other grassroots efforts.

Instead, she now says, Teach Great is closing its doors for good.

Authorities in 22 states, including Missouri, are investigating a scam aimed at school districts.

There’s nothing fancy about this scam. There’s no hacking or card readers.  It’s just what the Better Business Bureau calls an old time invoice scam.

It works like this: someone sends around invoices for $647.50 for workbooks.

The company name on the invoice, investigators say, is Scholastic School Supply, which is suspiciously close to Scholastic Inc., the huge educational book publisher.

Cybrarian 77 / Flickr--CC

A very contentious ballot issue in Missouri has been suddenly abandoned by its backers.

Amendment 3 would drastically change the way teachers are evaluated and retained.

The constitutional amendment would require districts to base the majority of an educator’s evaluation on student achievement. Teacher pay and retention would be largely based on that data. Amendment 3 would also cut into teacher tenure.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Kansas City Mayor Sly James announced a new program Monday aimed at getting kids to go to school.

A recently released report from the nonprofit Attendance Works says 20 percent of American students are chronically absent from school. The organization calls it a national challenge.

The Missouri superintendents from Kansas City, Center and Hickman Mills all say chronic absenteeism is about the same in their districts.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

This year on Central Standard, we'll be following three teenagers through their senior year of high school, from the beginning of the year through graduation in May, 2015.

Harold Burgos: High school and college at the same time

Age: 17

School: Ruskin High School, Hickman Mills School District, Kansas City, Mo.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

If you wandered into the St. Joseph, Missouri School District convocation a couple of weeks ago you would probably think everything in the district is just fine.

The 2,000 faculty and staff jammed into the Civic Center downtown were loud and seemed primed for the start of the 2014-2015 school year. But everyone in the arena that morning knew the district was in serious trouble.

Since April the FBI, a federal grand jury in Kansas City and the Missouri State Auditor have all been investigating the district of 11,000 students.

Lauren Manning / Flickr--CC

With all Kansas City-area students back to school, a new report shows just how important attendance is in the first month of school.

A report by the nonprofit Attendance Works calls chronic absenteeism a "national challenge" and says about one in five U.S. students miss 10 percent of school a year.

Cynborg / Wikimedia-CC

Friday is the day almost every school district in Missouri waits for all year. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on Friday morning released its yearly evaluation of schools and districts in Missouri.

More like tax day than Christmas, the results produce winners and losers.

Kansas City Public Schools found out three weeks ago that it moved up to provisional accreditation. DESE bases its entire assessment on a complicated 140-point scale, based on everything from academic achievement to graduation rates and classroom growth year to year.

Courtesy Crime Stoppers

Parents and students in Northland school districts  have a new, more efficient way to relay tips to Crime Stoppers.

Crime Stoppers has promoted its 474-TIPS hotline number for 32 years. More recently, the organization started taking tips by texts. The Northland Safe School Task Force got so many texts that officials reached out to Kansas City Crime Stoppers to help manage the information from students and parents.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, a lot has changed in the way police respond to a school shooter.

Squads no longer wait for SWAT teams to arrive. Now, they rush in to try and stop the shooter as quickly as possible.

CC: Lochoaymca

Educators, politicians, doctors and clergy all gathered in Kansas City Monday to discuss early childhood development.

Almost everyone agrees Pre-K education is crucial. The mantra for early educators is, "Talk, read, play."

Before they start kindergarten, teachers say, children need a lot of interaction with adults. Research shows that, on average, lower income children start school knowing 900 fewer words than more affluent children.

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