Jim Thorpe Area School District Board of Education members got some good news during their normal board meeting on Monday evening. Pennsylvania schools have moved ahead to the next round in the Race to the Top competition, a historic school reform program that pits the states against each other for a share of $4.35 billion the federal government will make available to the nation's leading schools.

The program was announced by President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last July.

"This competition will not be based on politics, ideology, or the preferences of a particular interest group. Instead, it will be based on a simple principlewhether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best data available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reformand states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant. Not every state will win and not every school district will be happy with the results. But America's children, America's economy, and America itself will be better for it," President Obama said in a speech at the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington.

During the meeting Monday evening, Superintendent Barbara Conway shared a letter with the Board sent by Secretary Duncan to Governor Rendell, announcing that Pennsylvania has made it to the first round of finalists. The Department received 41 applications from various states and the District of Columbia for the first phase of the program and advanced 16.

Duncan said in his letter that he could not be sure how many awards would be made in the first round, but urged any states that were not chosen as finalists to reapply in phase II, saying "I assure you there will be plenty of money remaining in the program after the first round of funding is complete."

If Pennsylvania emerges as a winner of a federal grant for education through this program, Jim Thorpe and the other district's in the state will still be competing for a portion of that money.

The next step will be presentations made by the state team during the week of March. 15.