New Jersey will apply for the first round of federal stimulus funds to public schools after all.

The highly competitive "Race to the Top" program, which will distribute $4.35 billion nationally, could provide as much as $400 million in additional education aid to New Jersey. Of the total amount, $350 million has been earmarked to help develop national scholastic assessments.

To seek funds for a specific project, a state must show a track record for its education-reform agenda and considerable local support. Among the goals of Race to the Top are to turn around low-performing schools, use data to improve instruction, support quality charter schools, and tie teacher effectiveness to student performance.

For a while, it looked as if New Jersey might not apply for the stimulus funds until June 1, the deadline for the second round of grants. The first-round deadline is Jan. 19, the day Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie takes office.

A survey of 44 states and the District of Columbia by the Center on Education Policy found that of 41 states that said they planned to apply for the funds, 39 intended to do so immediately. Pennsylvania has said that it will apply for Race to the Top funds in the first round.

According to a report last week in the Record in North Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Education did not plan to apply next month. In the article, a Christie spokeswoman said the incoming administration was disappointed with that decision.

Yesterday, the spokeswoman, Maria Comella, said the Christie transition team was "thrilled" that the Corzine administration now planned to apply for the first round of funding.

"From the beginning, Gov.-elect Christie strongly urged Gov. Corzine personally to do whatever is necessary to meet this important deadline," Comella said. "This news is a positive step toward ensuring New Jersey will receive this critical funding."

That version differed from the one state Education Commissioner Lucille Davy shared Monday with the Senate Education Committee.

Richard Vespucci, a state education spokesman, said Davy's department had been working on the application but the Christie transition team indicated it wanted to take charge of the process.

"Subsequently, the transition team contacted the commissioner and said they would prefer she handle that," Vespucci said.

Not applying for the funding until the second round would mean that, if it qualified for funding, the cash-strapped state would get its money in September rather than April. It would not mean that the state would be in danger of the funds having nearly run out, according to federal education spokesman Justin Hamilton.

"We're going to have a robust competition in Round Two for states that are pushing the education-reform envelope," Hamilton said.

In a joint statement, Senate Republicans Thomas H. Kean Jr. (Union) and Diane Allen (Burlington), both Education Committee members, praised the department for applying for the funds and expressed hope that the administrations would cooperate in the application process.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or rgiordano@phillynews.com.