AUGUSTA — The U.S. Department of Education today set a Sept. 9 deadline for states to apply for their share of $10 billion in federal funds meant to stave off teacher layoffs.

And Maine plans to act in advance of that deadline in order to claim the $39 million headed its way, a spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci said.

“We’re moving as quickly as we can, but this is complicated stuff,” said David Farmer, Baldacci’s deputy chief of staff. “We want to make sure we know what we’re doing before we put in the application.”

In addition to setting the application deadline, the U.S. Education Department today also released guidance to states on how they can use the federal funds package, which President Barack Obama signed into law on Wednesday.

In a letter to governors, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the late infusion of funds could be used to pay the salaries and benefits of employees with direct student contact. School districts can recall laid-off employees, hire new employees and cover the salaries of existing employees “to ensure that students receive vital educational and related services,” Duncan wrote.

The money can’t be used to cover central office administrative salaries and other overhead expenses.

Duncan said the Department of Education will send funds to states within two weeks of receiving their applications.

“We’re to the point where the school year’s about to begin, so we want to move as quickly as possible,” Farmer said.

Before Maine submits its application, Baldacci needs to decide how to dole that money out to local school districts. The state can distribute it either through its standard school funding formula or through the federal Title I formula, which awards funds to schools largely based on the percentage of students in poverty.

Baldacci has yet to make that decision, Farmer said.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates the $39 million headed to Maine can bankroll 700 jobs. Nationwide, the $10 billion package can save 160,000 positions, the department says.