Sen. Matt Lesser (D-Middletown), has been part of the Connecticut Black and Puerto Rican Caucus (BPRC) since 2013; but his involvement may be ending, and not on his own volition.
On Jan. 14, an online petition, initiated by Black parents and community leaders, is strongly advocating for his removal from the caucus.
The petition stems from concerns surrounding Sen. Lesser’s last-minute decision to withdraw funding for Capital Preparatory Charter School (CPREP), which had been poised to become Middletown’s first charter school. The funding was initially earmarked by the Appropriations Committee in April 2023, allocating $200,000 to CPREP for the 2024 school year, and then $4.75 million for the following year.
However, in the eleventh hour on the final day of the 2023 session (precisely at 11:48pm), all funding was abruptly pulled. The petition alleges that Sen. Lesser and several of his colleagues withdrew all support for the school.
Gwen Samuel, the petition’s author, asserts that Sen. Lesser is voting against the academic needs of vulnerable children in Middletown, “all while sitting on the BPRC.” She contends that his actions have had a detrimental impact on the education of the community’s most vulnerable children.
“He should not be on caucus when he votes against the interest of Black and Puerto Rican people,” she told Yankee Institute. “We must have faith in God, and everyone else must be held accountable.”
The school garnered full support from the statewide NAACP and the Middlesex County Chapter, who strongly denounced the decision to cut funding as “racist,” a “back-door” maneuver, and an “11th-hour” effort aimed at restricting educational options for Black and brown children and their families.
Sen. Lesser and Sen. Jan Hochadel (D-Meriden), both representing Middletown, were specifically singled out by the NAACP as the individuals responsible for obstructing the school’s progress. Notably, Sen. Hochadel also holds the position of Connecticut American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president. AFT has publicly criticized charter schools, accusing them of exacerbating “racial and ethnic isolation in Connecticut’s student communities” and draining money from public school districts. Furthermore, they assert that the Latino population faces challenges in filling out applications, resulting in their exclusion.
In a campaign pledge to the Connecticut Educator Association (CEA) — the state’s largest teacher union — Sen. Hochadel openly declared her opposition to any legislation that “expands charter schools at the expense of public school students.” Given this apparent conflict of interest, concerns are raised about the appropriateness of Sen. Hochadel actively advocating on financial matters that could benefit her union at the expense of others.
Is it possible that the true motivation behind the opposition of the two senators to the school lies in their financial connections to big labor? Sen. Lesser, who has taken a similar pledge as Sen. Hochadel, differs from her in that he is not directly employed by the union. However, it is noteworthy that Sen. Lesser has received financial support and assistance from big labor in the past.
It is also important to highlight that a majority of charter school teachers are not union members. As a result, when students transfer out of charter schools, unions experience a loss, leading to a reduction in dues: money that could be redirected to lawmakers who align with their interests. This dynamic raises questions about the motivations behind the senators’ stance on the school.
Neither senator stated publicly why or how they were able to have the funding removed.
This isn’t the first time Sen. Lesser employed an 11th-hour technique. In his unsuccessful campaign for Secretary of the State in 2022, he faced criticism for last-minute efforts to revise the balloting order at the Democratic State Convention.
To secure the endorsement,. Sen. Lesser sought to have his race positioned first instead of last, challenging the initial random scheduling. This move was driven by concerns that an endorsement might be less likely if several white men were endorsed before him. It’s worth noting that two of the leading candidates were both women of color. Stephanie Thomas, the current Secretary of State, was the eventual nominee.
In another questionable move, Sen. Lesser opted to host a fundraiser at his home last June to raise funds for Rhode Island Congressional Candidate Aaron Regunberg. At the time, Regunberg faced criticism from his own party for a track record of not supporting women, specifically women of color. Six members from the progressive wing of the RI Democratic Party issued a joint statement, outlining their lack of support from Regunberg, citing numerous instances of bullying and threats directed towards the women.
Sen. Lesser did not and has not publicly addressed the event or clarify whether he was aware of the highly publicized allegations against Regunberg.
The petition’s organizers hope to obtain 100 signatures. This target was determined by calculating a percentage based on the total enrollment in the Middletown Public School system (4,387), in with 21.7% are Black. They arrived at the 100 figure by taking 10% of this percentage. As of this article’s publication, the petition has received 52 signatures.
Samuel — who is a mom and grandmother considers herself a “mamma bear” — has recently launched a “Vote 4 the Other Guy” campaign where she encourages people to “vote selfishly and informed.” Describing the movement as a parent-led civic education campaign for vulnerable communities, Samuel emphasizes that it aims to “support our children’s educational journey.”
She said, the movement encourages voting for candidates regardless of their political affiliation, who possess the “moral courage and political will” to prioritize children’s academic and life needs over their “political ambitions, egos and ideologies.”