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NY still in race for big U.S. education grants

New York State is still in the race for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal school-improvement grants - and local educators just hope the state doesn't blow its chance.

In Washington, D.C., Thursday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that New York, 14 other states and the District of Columbia are finalists to share up to $2 billion in "Race to the Top" grants.

New York and Florida are the only megastates left in the running, after the elimination of California and Texas. Those states initially had been told they could be eligible for $350 million to $700 million.

Though much of the money is expected to go to urban schools, the grants could also help Long Island districts that expect state aid to drop or remain flat next year.

But the money's not guaranteed. Finalists will be invited to Washington in mid-March for judging, before winners are named next month.

"Most of them will go home as finalists, not winners," Duncan said. In all, about $4.3 billion is to be distributed, once second-round winners are named in September.

Duncan has suggested that states might improve their chances by lifting ceilings on charter schools. In January, New York's State Legislature failed to pass a measure that would have doubled the permissible number of charter schools to at least 400.

Some state education leaders say a failure to act on charter schools could hurt New York's chances, while others think it makes little difference. Roger Tilles, the Island's representative to the state Board of Regents, said Thursday that he hoped lawmakers "will take this second chance" and that it could reach agreement within two weeks.

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