State education officials learned yesterday the state was not one of the first to share in a $4.4 billion program designed to improve student performance.

Gov. Rendell says, however, he remains hopeful that Pennsylvania's application for a federal "Race to the Top" education grant will succeed when the next round is awarded.

Delaware and Tennessee are the first recipients.

Tennessee is getting $500 million and Delaware will receive $100 million. Both states were lauded for their merit-pay policies that link teacher pay to student performance and their charter-school laws that are welcoming to nontraditional education models.

But they also were winners because they had every school district approve their applications, which meant that their reforms could touch every student rather than be limited to a handful of districts.

"They have demonstrated the courage, capacity and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. Tennessee and Delaware "will blaze a path for the future of education reform."

Rendell says Pennsylvania's request for $400 million ranked seventh. The Philadelphia district could have gotten up to $50 million.

The state's application focuses on chronically failing schools. It calls for a longer school day and school year as well as the ability to fire principals and up to half a building's staff.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.