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Bill Radke: Later this month comes the deadline for states to apply for more than $4 billion in federal education grants. It is the biggest pot of federal money for reforming primary and secondary schools to come along in a while. But the dollars come with strings attached, as Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports from Washington.


John Dimsdale: States with the most innovative reforms will get the largest grants. Criteria include performance pay for teachers, more help for under-performing schools and encouragement for charter schools.

The Education Department's Justin Hamilton says states are scrambling to be eligible.

Justin Hamilton: What you've seen is states making changes to their laws or restoring funding cuts for things like charter schools, things that are being done to make them more competitive.

But some reformers believe the Education Department has watered down eligibility -- loosening the definition of charter schools, for example.

Jeanne Allen at the Center for Education Reform says the federal government isn't taking advantage of the states' desperate need for funds.

Jeanne Allen: When they're not willing to use that power over education the same way they're using it in the banking and financial industries, it calls into question whether they're really serious about education reform.

The Department insists it will hold states strictly accountable when the first grants are made in April.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.