The federal government cut off a $500,000 grant for a Harlem program that helped poor kids go to college — because it was doing too good a job.
After 40 years of funding the Harlem Center for Education, the US Department of Education denied the “Talent Search” grant in August. According to the bizarre bureaucratic logic, the program didn’t need money because students were succeeding.
The Harlem Center was forced to fire staff and abandon hundreds of students just as they were preparing their college applications.
“What it means is that over 1,000 students in the East Harlem area . . . will not receive free educational services with respect to helping them graduate from high school, assist them in applying to college and enrolling in college,” said Paula Martin (pictured above), the program’s executive director.
The grants are meant to fund free SAT prep classes, financial-aid counseling, visits to college campuses, tutoring, access to computers and other services.
Alumni were shocked that the feds pulled the plug on a program that has helped thousands go to college.
“I think it’s crazy,” said Michell Cardona, 34. “I don’t know where I would be if I had not had that opportunity or not had those resources available to me.”
Cardona said a Harlem Center counselor encouraged her to apply to Cornell University, and she graduated from the Ivy League institution with an architecture degree. She works as an architect and teaches at NYU and CUNY.
“They are really destroying dreams,” said Isaac Torres. He got help from the Harlem Center in the 1980s. He went to law school and is now first vice president and assistant general counsel at Carver Bancorp in Harlem.
The new grant would have continued to pay for services at the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, a 1,600-student high school in East
Harlem, and Murry Bergtraum HS in Lower Manhattan.
Three people working for the DOE vetted the applications and gave points for various criteria, including need. To win a grant, a program needs to score 106 points; the Harlem Center missed with a 100.17 score. Its application was one of 880 submitted.
The grant reviewers took points off the Harlem Center’s application because students at the Manhattan Center had shown academic improvement, Martin said.
One federal evaluator deducted three points for need because those students had a healthy college enrollment and completion rate of 76 percent, documents reviewed by The Post show. The reviewer docked another point because student math scores were too high.
Another reviewer noted that the high school “has 56 percent of students receiving Regents diplomas,” higher than the city average. Another point was deducted.
The DOE last week refused pleas to reconsider, even rebuffing a request by Rep. Charles Rangel. An agency spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Martin said her program has provided services at the Manhattan Center since the 1980s. The Harlem Center had a $1.2 million budget in the last fiscal year, almost all from government grants.
She called the loss of nearly half its funding “huge.” Seven staffers were let go, leaving six employees. Martin’s salary was slashed to $28,000 a year.