Published: Jul 27, 2010 6:45 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 27, 2010 3:39 PM EDT

ATLANTA (AP) - Eighteen states and the District of Columbia 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.

Education Department officials provided The Associated Press with a list of the finalists ahead of a speech by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

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.

Duncan 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.