Education Secretary Arne Duncan approved 16 states’ plans to ensure equitable access to good teachers. (Cliff Owen/AP/File)

The Obama administration has approved 16 states’ plans to ensure that all students, including those in high-poverty schools, have equitable access to strong teachers, Education Department officials announced Thursday.

Some states are offering financial incentives to teachers who agree to work in hard-to-staff schools. Others are focusing on developing stronger principals, since teachers cite administrators as key reasons for their decisions to stay or leave a school.

And still others are working to improve their teacher-preparation programs.

Now the question becomes how faithfully states and school districts will carry out their plans. Education Department officials said they will focus on support and assistance rather than punishment — such as withholding federal funds — for states that lag.

“We do have enforcement possibilities if it gets to that point,” said Ann Whalen, who serves as the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education. “ We definitely see that as a last resort.”

States have been required to develop such plans for years under No Child Left Behind, the nation’s main education law. Nevertheless, poor and minority disadvantaged children continue to be taught by less-effective and less-experienced teachers than their white, affluent counterparts.

Last year Education Secretary Arne Duncan sought to bring new energy to the problem. He asked states to revamp their plans and invested $4.2 million in technical assistance.

All 50 states submitted rewritten plans; 34 of them remain under review.

The 16 states whose plans were approved are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning think tank, called the administration’s effort a “nothing burger” at the time.

“There is very little the federal government can do from Washington to fix these problems,” he said.