Maryland is among 19 finalists in a U.S. Department of Education competition for hundreds of millions of dollars -- welcome news to the state officials who once disagreed about when even to enter the "Race to the Top."

The Sun's Liz Bowie reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is likely to pick about a dozen states as winners by early September; Maryland stands to win $250 million.

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"I can barely contain myself," said Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools. "We are so excited because there was tremendous work that went into this and it has such potential for our schools."

Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement that he is "honored" to be among the finalists. "To Maryland, this process has always been about more than simply a race for education dollars," he said.

Grasmick and O'Malley are expected to head to Washington to personally make their case for a slice of the $3.4 billion pie, Bowie reports.

But eight months ago, in the early days of the education contest, Grasmick and O'Malley differed on whether the state should enter the first round in January. Maryland was one of just 10 states that did not try for the money at that time. (Delaware and Tennessee won, sharing $600 million.)

O'Malley said Maryland, which routinely is at the head of the education class, nationally, should have applied. But Grasmick successfully argued that the state needed to make several legislative changes before it was able to submit a strong application.

This spring, the Maryland General Assembly passed several laws aimed at making the state more competitive for Race to the Top, including calling for student performance to be part of how teachers are evaluated.

Legislation to make it easier to launch charter schools -- another consideration in Race to the Top -- never really got off the ground. Forthcoming details about the Round 2 finalists could provide insight on how Maryland performed in each category, perhaps even forecasting Maryland's chances of winning.

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