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Philly college scholarship program comes to sudden end

A scholarship program that has provided cash to nearly 13,000 Philadelphia high school students headed for college is coming to a sudden end.

A scholarship program that has provided cash to nearly 13,000 Philadelphia high school students headed for college is coming to a sudden end.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) told Mayor Nutter in a letter last week that he was disbanding the program, in part because of the mayor's decision last month to cut the city's annual contribution this year by $1 million.

"Regretfully, the budget realities for the City of Philadelphia make it impossible to continue this effort," Fattah wrote of the Philadelphia College Opportunity Resources for Education program, known as CORE Philly.

Acknowledging the funding cut, Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver stressed that the city lived up to a four-year funding commitment made by Mayor John F. Street in 2004.

Rather, what has fallen short, Oliver said, was Fattah's effort to raise money for an endowment to provide permanent funding for the scholarship program.

"The program was intended to be self-sufficient by the end of last year," Oliver said, referring to the end of the city's fiscal year on June 30.

That never happened, however - a point Fattah acknowledged.

Citing the city's financial crisis, Fattah said in an interview yesterday, "This is not a Michael Nutter failure. If Chaka Fattah had raised more money for the endowment, we would have had more money."

The congressman's hope now, as he expressed to Nutter in his letter, is for low-income city students to receive financial help from a replacement program of sorts proposed by President-elect Barack Obama. Specifically, Fattah referred to an Obama education proposal to provide a $4,000 college-tuition tax credit to students who dedicate 100 hours to community service.

"I think there will be a more than adequate substitute for Philly in the immediate future," he said.

Created by Fattah in 2003, CORE Philly has awarded $24 million in scholarships.

The program provides public and private high school graduates up to $3,000 to attend one of 21 state colleges and universities.

At the start, Street had committed $4 million a year to the program, while former Philadelphia School District chief executive Paul Vallas had agreed to provide $6 million. Both commitments were for four years.

Nutter, in the budget he proposed for the fiscal year that began last July 1, decided to extend CORE Philly, but reduced the city's yearly subsidy to $2.5 million.

Oliver said the reduced figure was a reflection of how much scholarship money the city actually awarded in past years; too few students applied to require the city's full $4 million commitment.

The remaining money, Oliver said, was used to help establish the endowment for CORE Philly.

Earlier this month, Nutter cut the city's contribution further, to $1.5 million - a casualty of the $108 million deficit the city faces this year.

"We really looked everywhere, and because the problem was so big, we had to make cuts in lots of different places and this was one of them," city Finance Director Rob Dubow said.

He noted that CORE Philly was slated to continue receiving $1.5 million for the next four years - although Fattah in his letter said he understood there would be "further reductions" in the coming years.

Fattah noted in his letter that efforts to build the endowment had fallen far short. Just this past June, Fattah announced a drive to raise up to $200 million, but just $5 million was collected.

For now, Fattah has suggested that the endowment be used to pay for the scholarships for next spring's recipients, who will be the final participants in the CORE Philly program.