Students climb stairs to the classrooms in Building 2 on the first day of school at John Burroughs High School in Burbank on Monday, August 13, 2012.

Students climb stairs to the classrooms in Building 2 on the first day of school at John Burroughs High School in Burbank on Monday, August 13, 2012. (Tim Berger/Staff photographer / September 7, 2012)

Burbank Unified officials say they, too, may enter the fray as school districts throughout the nation compete for millions in federal aid money.

For the first time, the federal government is allowing individual school districts to apply for the highly competitive Race to the Top grants, which could prove to be a windfall. The highest allotments could bring in $40 million over the course of four years.

The 70-plus-page application must arrive in Washington, D.C. before Oct. 30 with the comments of each city's mayor included. Previously, the U.S. Department of Education had opened the application process only to individual states. About $400 million will be split among the recipients.

“Burbank Unified School District is weighing [its] options and will decide soon whether we will apply,” said spokeswoman Kimberley Clark.

Eligible districts must serve at least 2,000 students, and at least 40% of their students must be from low-income families.

The grants will only be awarded to from 15 to 25 winners. Glendale Unified officials say they believe the grants represent too great an opportunity to pass up, despite the tough competition.

“It's a tremendous opportunity,” said Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan.

At a recent meeting, Glendale school board member Greg Krikorian said the Race to the Top grants were “worth taking a swing at it.”

“The prize is huge,” he said.

Kelly King, director of early education for Glendale Unified, said the program's intent is to help districts focus on personalized learning, close achievement gaps and supply schools with 21st-century tools, in addition to preparing students for college and their career paths.

“We want to turn in a grant application that represents our vision right now and what we would like to see,” King said at Tuesday's school board meeting.

School board President Christine Walters said she saw “very little downside” in applying.

“We look forward to the draft and we look forward to winning,” she said.

Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellymcorrigan.