Sam Zeff

Metro Reporter

Sam is KCUR's Metro Reporter, focusing on Jackson County government, Kansas City and the KCPD. Before that, he covered education for KCUR and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.  

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.

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.


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.

American Institutes for Research -- highlighting KCUR

For years, states have decided the definition of reading and math proficiency with their own sets of standards.

The result? Kansas children often seem to come out ahead of Missouri children in math and reading, when comparing the states' data.

But when this data is normalized across all 50 states, there's a different story.

RELATED: What You Probably Didn't Know About Academic Standards In Kansas And Missouri / Creative Commons

It’s not really fair, but when many people around here think of quality schools, they think of Kansas.

Indeed, going back decades lots of real estate agents have guided new residents to the Kansas side of the line.

But there’s a significant difference between how Missouri schools and Kansas schools are judged.

"Our Missouri standards tend to rank at the more rigorous levels than do our standards assessments in Kansas," says Dr. Leigh Anne Taylor Knight of the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It was a brutal legal week for the embattled St. Joseph, Mo., School District.

It was served with a third federal grand jury subpoena for documents, as staff welcomed back CFO Beau Musser after seven months on paid administrative leave after accusing him of sexual misconduct.

An outside investigation showed Musser did not act improperly. Musser sued the district and that lawsuit is still pending.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The federal investigation into the St. Joseph School District is becoming more focused.

A third grand jury subpoena was served on the Missouri district late Thursday.

This latest subpoena for documents asks for some very specific information.

In a news release, the district says the grand jury sitting in Kansas City, Mo., wants to know about the district's tuition reimbursement and teacher certificate reimbursement programs.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The St. Joseph School District in St. Joseph, Mo., faces a raft of problems, including an investigation by the FBI, a federal grand jury in Kansas City, the U.S. Department of Education and the Missouri State Auditor. 

But at least one of the embattled district’s problems may be cycling to an end.

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.

Wikipedia -- Creative Commons


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.