Charleston County School District is one of 61 finalists in the first-ever federal Race to the Top District competition, according to an announcement today from the U.S. Department of Education.

The competition will offer nearly $400 million split among 15 to 25 winners to support locally developed plans to personalize education for students.

The four-year awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students, and winners will be named by Dec. 31.

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

Charleston was the only South Carolina school district to be named a finalist among a total of 372 applicants. Thirteen other South Carolina districts, including its neighbors of Dorchester 2 and Berkeley, had applied for the funding.

Charleston asked for a four-year, $19.4 million grant to serve about 9,500 students in 19 high-need schools. Those schools include Burke, Stall and St. John’s high schools, and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them.

Officials said they would use the funding to personalize learning environments by making classrooms more student-centered.

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