Pennsylvania and New Jersey were among the losers in the latest competition for federal Race to the Top education grants.

This time around, 35 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were vying for a share of $500 million to help make prekindergarten and other early-childhood learning programs more accessible and better able to narrow the achievement gap between those who enter kindergarten with previous formal schooling and those who do not.

Nine states - California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington - were the winners announced by the Obama administration Friday at the White House.

New Jersey, which placed 15th, could have received up to $60 million and Pennsylvania, at 16th, up to $70 million, according to a federal Education Department spokesman.

"Nothing is more important than getting our babies off to a good start," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania both said they remained committed to furthering early-childhood education in their states.

"We are disappointed that Pennsylvania was not selected as a grant recipient," said Tim Eller, Pennsylvania Education Department spokesman. "The commonwealth remains committed to early education initiatives to have a positive impact on our youngest learners.

New Jersey acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said applying for the award "strengthened collaboration across state agencies and led to the development of a comprehensive plan that will serve as a road map for the future of early-childhood education in New Jersey."

The two states lost out in two previous Race to the Top contest rounds for reform-supporting grants.

They are among seven states that have applied for a share of $200 million in yet another Race to the Top round. New Jersey and Pennsylvania are each eligible for up to $28 million.

The money is intended to support a reform agenda as specified by the Obama administration to advance education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The winners are expected to be announced this month, the federal education spokesman said.