Capital Prep Wins Approval, But Matt Lesser Says Charter School Still has ‘Work to Do’


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MIDDLETOWN — Deputy Majority Leader Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, told CT Examiner that the proposed charter school in Middletown “had work to do” to win support for opening in 2024.

Lesser shared with CT Examiner a recent analysis from the legislature’s non-partisan budgetary office estimating that the recently approved Capital Preparatory Charter School could result in an annual loss of $4 million in state funding to the city’s regular public schools by the year 2028.

Under current law, Middletown’s public schools are slated to receive a $4.1 million increase in funding from the state of Connecticut by the 2028 fiscal year, bringing the district’s total funding up to $27.9 million. 

But the analysis shows that if the Capital Preparatory Charter School were to open as proposed, in August 2024, the school’s state funding over the next five years would remain close to what it is currently.  

According to the application presented to the Board of Education earlier this month, the school would begin by enrolling 380 students in grades 6 through 12, then expand to grades K-1 after three years, adding a grade each year after until all grades were filled. The ultimate enrollment would be approximately 1,150.  

The calculation assumes that the charter school’s enrollment of special education students and English language learners mirrors the local school district — which will not necessarily be the case. In Bridgeport, where Capital Prep currently operates Capital Preparatory Harbor School, the regular public schools enroll a far higher percentage of special education and English language learners. A similar split would result in a narrower funding gap.

According to the current state funding formula, the charter school would receive at least $11,525 per pupil from the state, or a total of $13.25 million if the school enrolls the projected 1,150 students.

The local public schools would still be responsible for providing transportation for charter school students.

Earlier this month, the State Board of Education approved an initial certification for the Capital Preparatory Middletown. But the state legislature would still have to allocate money for the school in its budget. As of now, two other proposed charter schools, one in Danbury and another in Norwalk, are still awaiting funding from the legislature despite having been approved by the board in 2018. 

Lesser told CT Examiner that he felt Capital Prep “had work to do” to make a case for the school to the community. He said that while he knew there had been several town halls in houses of worship, it was his understanding that those were open only to the members of those churches. Less said that the lack of what he called a “meaningful town hall forum” was the reason that the State Department of Education recommended delaying approval of the charter.  

“I think it’s a little disappointing that the applicant didn’t … welcome the opportunity to have a town hall meeting to make the case for why the public should support this and hear from the members of the community,” Lesser told CT Examiner. 

Some local residents complained that a February public hearing in Middletown held by the State Board of Education was packed by out-of-town supporters of Capital Prep and failed to provide sufficient opportunity for Middletown residents to speak.

Lesser also noted that the enrollment of the Middletown Public Schools — which, according to the the department, has about 4,400 students — has been declining. 

“I personally don’t know what analysis has been done to justify a new 1,200 student school in Middletown when the conversations so far have been about closing schools, not opening new ones,” said Lesser. 

State Rep. Kai Belton, D-Middletown, who was just elected in a Feb. 28 special election to the seat formerly held by State Rep. Q Williams, told CT Examiner that she hadn’t yet had a chance to talk with board members of Capital Prep Middletown, or to hear from the community. She said she wanted to hear more before taking a position. 

“As a parent, I feel like parents deserve choice. Children deserve choice. As a representative, I feel like all the voices need to be heard when it comes to this school coming to Middletown, especially when we’re talking about taking $4 million away from public schools,” said Belton, whose own children went to Capital Prep. 

The additional $4 million would come from growth in the district’s Alliance Grant, a portion of state funding set aside for low-performing schools to use for specific things, including strengthening academic interventions and programs, providing students with wraparound services in the community and teacher recruitment. 

This year, Middletown used its Alliance Grant to pay for academic interventionists, building substitutes, paraprofessionals, and library specialists, as well as math and reading curriculum, professional development and mental health services for students at Beman Middle School and Middletown High School. 

Capital Preparatory Middletown did not respond to a request for comment from CT Examiner on Friday.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.