Pennsylvania and New Jersey could get between $200 and $400 million each in education money from the federal Race to the Top Fund competition, the U.S. Department of Education announced today.

Nationwide, $4.35 billion will be available to states through the fund, which federal education secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama say will go to states that best raise academic standards, boost teacher quality, track student gains and improve failing schools.

Duncan today released the final application for the funds, which will come from the economic stimulus package.

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak said he welcomed the competition.

"The availability of Race to the Top funds presents a tremendous opportunity for all Pennsylvania's schools to build on our academic gains, and we are poised to compete vigorously for these funds," Zahorchak said in a statement.

Zahorchak said Pennsylvania is on track to be "one of the first" states to apply for Race to the Top money, he said. The deadline for the first round of applications is in January.

Today, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission learned the city school district has received $75,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help the district win federal dollars for its Renaissance Schools Initiative, said Benjamin Rayer, associate superintendent for charter, partner and new schools.

Rayer said the money will fund grantwriting for federal programs such as Race to the Top. Philadelphia's Renaissance Schools initiative will see up to 35 failing schools closed in the next five years and re-opened either as charters, district schools run by outside providers, or other new ventures.

New Jersey education secretary Lucille Davy said the department had just received the 200-page application and wanted to review it before commenting.

Race to the Top has already drawn fire from many unions, who say its design is flawed.

"In the end, Race to the Top is still focused heavily on tying student test scores to individual teachers. Educationally, that's unsound," said Steve Baker, spokesman for the 203,000-member New Jersey Education Association.

Just because student get higher test scores doesn't mean they're learning more, Baker said.

"Putting an undue emphasis on standardized test scores is a continuation of something that was wrong with No Child Left Behind," he said. "There are a lot of other ways to measure teacher effectiveness."

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or

Inquirer staff writer Cynthia Henry contributed to this story, which also contains information from Bloomberg News.