The Baltimore City and Baltimore County school districts have been named among 61 finalists nationwide to vie for millions in federal grants under the new Race to the Top program, the U.S. Dept. of Education announced Monday.

The two school systems were among 372 from across the country to apply for the new district-level competition, which could award the city and county between $30 and $40 million to invest in innovative programs to address their achievement gaps.

“These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement send by the department. 

According to a release from the federal education department, the 2012 district-level competition--which follows a similar competition for states-- will allocate close to $400 million to "support locally developed plans to personalize learning and deepen student learning, directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student for success in college and careers."

In 2010, Maryland received $250 million in the original Race to the Top competition to further efforts like developing a new teacher evaluation system that based 50 percent of a teachers' performance on student test scores.

Baltimore city school officials said in September that the district was seeking the new Race to the Top grant to "ratchet up and round out current priority reform initiatives," as it begins rolling out the new common core standards that will raise rigor in literacy and math.

The U.S. Department of Education expects to choose 15-25 winning applications for four-year awards, which are expected to be announced by Dec. 31. 

erica.green@baltsun.com

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