Washington (CNN) -- It's like an Olympics for education money, complete with winners and losers as states learned on Wednesday whether they are still in competition for "the gold" -- in this case, a portion of the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds.
The winners were thrilled to still be in the game.
"We are excited to be a part of the Race to the Top network of finalists, as we implement value-added teacher evaluations, turn around failing schools and grow more high-quality charter schools to serve our communities and our children," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones said, "No matter what happens ... we will not give up our work. Our mission will not waver." Colorado is the only Western state still in the running.
The losers vowed to fight on, as they are permitted to reapply the next round this summer.
"This decision by the Obama Administration demonstrates that we need to be more aggressive and bolder in reforming our education system," said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "While the reforms we passed did move our state forward, they did not go far enough because other states were more competitive."
The 41 competitors were whittled down to 16 finalists in the first heat of the first phase of the program.
It is unclear how many states will actually win the education dollars, but Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday that it would be in the single digits. No more than $2 billion will be awarded in the first round.
The remaining money from the $4.35 billion will be distributed to states under the second round of competition.
The phase-one finalists will all come to Washington in mid-March to present their case directly to U.S. Department of Education officials. The presentations are then expected to the posted on the department's Web site at www.ed.gov.
States still in the running are Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. The District of Columbia is also in the running.
Race to the Top is a nationwide competition financed by the stimulus bill. States are judged for their plans to turn around under-performing schools, press for college and career-ready standards, improve teacher quality and utilize data systems to support student achievement.