New Jersey will take another crack at winning federal Race to the Top education money. The state also plans to seek a share of newly announced federal aid for early-childhood education.

"We're going to apply," state education spokeswoman Allison Kobus said Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday that the nine finalists in the last round of the Race to the Top competition, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, can try again, though for smaller stakes. This time, the pot is $200 million, with grants ranging from $10 million to $50 million.

New Jersey missed out on claiming up to $400 million last summer when it placed just three points behind the last of 10 winners. In the swirl of controversy and finger-pointing that followed, Gov. Christie fired Education Commissioner Bret Schundler.

Liz Utrup, a federal education spokeswoman, said the application process had not yet been set. Because the grants will be smaller, staff of the federal department will work with the states to update their plans to reflect a more limited scope of work.

Also Wednesday, the federal Education Department and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services jointly announced the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, a $500 million grant competition open to all states. New Jersey expects to be among the applicants, Kobus said.

Details of the programs are expected to be set by early fall, and the grants will be announced by Dec. 31.

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