Sam Zeff

EDUCATION REPORTER, Kansas News Service

Sam covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service. 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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Sam Zeff / KCUR

There seems to be a growing tenseness over the future of education in Kansas. The fight last year over block grant funding was hardball and, at times, ugly. Teachers felt under the gun, and many decided to leave the state.

But as KCUR’s Sam Zeff reports, educators say the attacks this legislative session feel particularly bitter.

It’s Wednesday, 30 minutes before the House Education Committee will meet and room 112-North in the Kansas Statehouse is packed.

It’s hot, there’s not enough seats, and the Capitol police, who rarely leave entrance, are in the room.

Although some tried to stop it and many don’t like the idea, the Kansas Board of Regents is expected to approve a new conceal-and-carry weapons policy at its regular meeting Wednesday.

As it now stands, come July 1, 2017 anyone will be able to carry a gun on a public school campus in Kansas.

But the vast majority of faculty and staff oppose the change.

  We already know that the budget problems in Kansas are eating into some core functions of government.

A special joint interim legislative committee has been holding hearings on it, and many Kansas educators would say for the New Year all they want is a new school funding formula.

But the chairman of the state House Education Committee says he doesn't see a replacement for the current block grant funding scheme passing this legislative session. "But in reality, does anyone really think it'll be done by the end of session this year? I don't think so," says Rep. Ron Highland, a conservative Republican from Wamego.

While public schools in Kansas deal with frozen budgets and lawmakers prepare for another session dominated by fights over school funding, there is a small group of people profiting: lawyers representing the state and school districts in the case now before thes Kansas Supreme Court.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The Kansas State Department of Education is moving full speed ahead towards its goal of perhaps drastically changing what is taught in public schools.

The department's top two officials brought their case to Johnson County educators and a few lawmakers Tuesday at the Olathe School District headquarters.

"Can we reinvent ourselves and hold on to what we have always done?" asked Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson, who took over KSDE in July.

One of the strictest voter ID laws in the country will be under the microscope when the Kansas Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission holds hearings to determine whether the law has suppressed voter turnout in some communities.

The Civil Rights Commission has advisory committees in all 50 states and the Kansas committee voted Tuesday to move forward with its investigation.

Sam Zeff/KCUR

The Kansas State Board of Education today heard about the increasing number of teacher leaving the state to teach elsewhere.

In the past five years the number of teachers moving out of state to teach has ballooned from 400 to over 650, a 63 percent increase.

The report also said that the number of teachers simply leaving the profession almost doubled since 2011.

Marie Carter, personnel manager for the Topeka School District, says the political climate in Kansas is to blame.

For a while, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was saying it was going to be pretty difficult to start offering benefits to same-sex couples who worked for the state following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

It took a few days, but the state finally started granting gay and lesbian couples benefits. But local governments have been quietly offering same-sex benefits for some time.

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