Mass. Among 'Race To The Top' Finalists

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The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday named Massachusetts as one of 16 finalists in the first round of its "Race to the Top" competition, which will deliver $4.35 billion in school reform grants.

The 15 states and one district were selected from a pool of 41 applicants. Joining Massachusetts in the selection are Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. The winners will be chosen in April.

"These states are an example for the country of what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.

The grants are designed to reward and spur states to lift student achievement by developing strong standards, getting high-quality teachers in the classroom and turning around low-performing schools.

In January, Massachusetts passed a major education reform package, in part to meet the deadline for the federal "Race" funding. Supporters of the package hoped it would boost the state’s case for the federal dollars, which could total more than $250 million over four years.

Speaking to WBUR in January, Gov. Deval Patrick stressed the merits of education reform and affirmed that reform can be achieved without federal dollars, but he also said the package would aid the state's case for the money.

“We had a pretty good shot (of getting the money before), but I think this package makes our position even stronger,” Patrick said.

The money is part of President Obama's economic stimulus law, which provided an unprecedented $100 billion for schools. Much of that has gone toward preventing teacher layoffs and addressing other budget concerns. The $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund is targeted specifically for education reform.

A second round of applications will be accepted in June.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This program aired on March 4, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.