NY, NJ Finalists for Education Grant

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    BERLIN - SEPTEMBER 18: Fourth-grade students read books in the elementary school at the John F. Kennedy Schule dual-language public school on September 18, 2008 in Berlin, Germany. The German government will host a summit on education in Germany scheduled for mid-October in Dresden. Germany has consistantly fallen behind in recent years in comparison to other European countries in the Pisa education surveys, and Education Minister Annette Schavan is pushing for an 8 percent increase in the national educaiton budget for 2009. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

    Eighteen states, including New York and New Jersey, were named finalists Tuesday in the second round of the federal "Race to the Top'' school reform grant competition, giving them a chance to receive a share of $3 billion.

    The states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.  Washington D.C. is also a finalist.

    The Dept. of Education was expected to officially announce the finalists at a speech at the National Press Club.

    The competition rewards ambitious reforms aimed at improving struggling schools and closing the achievement gap. Applications were screened by a panel of peer reviewers, and finalists will travel to Washington in coming weeks to present their proposals.

    In all, 35 states and the District of Columbia applied for the second round of the application. The 19 finalists have asked for $6.2 billion, though only $3.4 billion is available.

    Dozens of states passed new education policies to make themselves more attractive to the judges.

    New York, which was a finalist in the first round but did not win money, lifted its cap on the number of charter schools that can open annually from 200 to 460. Colorado passed laws that would pay teachers based on student performance and can strip tenure from low performing instructors.

    Two states, Tennessee and Delaware, were awarded a total of $600 million in the first round.

    Their applications were praised for merit pay policies that link teacher pay to student performance and for garnering the support of teachers' unions. Tennessee and Delaware also have laws that are welcoming to charter schools.

    In the first round of the race, some stakeholders were reluctant to support applications tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.