SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCBS) _ California is keeping pace in the Race to the Top, as the state has been named a finalist for the second round of federal education funds.

The Golden State didn’t qualify for the first round of funding, but Kathryn Geither, Governor Schwarzenegger’s Undersecretary of Education said California has moved forward from that first application effort.

“We learned from our mistakes in that application and with the help of the really fantastic superintendents, who were part of our leadership group, we put together a plan that shows that this work can be done and is already being done in California,” said Geither.

Click to listen

The superintendents of seven school districts, including San Francisco, helped craft California’s second application.

State Superintendent Jack O’ Connell said the strong pitch has important reform elements.

“Having effective teachers in each and every classroom, strong leadership and providing our teachers and leaders with the high quality support that they need,” he said. “So that each and every one of our students is prepared for success.”

The federal criteria to qualify for the funding has been criticized by California’s teachers unions for requiring a merit pay system.

But Education Secretary Arne Duncan said there is no time for fighting.

“It’s about folks working together and putting the needs of children ahead of everything else,” said Duncan.

California is one of 19 finalists competing for a share of more than $3 billion.