Gov. Martin O'Malley and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick defended the state's application for up to $250 million in federal education funds in a 90-minute session Wednesday where they were peppered with specific questions about their proposed reforms.
With so much money on the line in hard economic times, the rules for the greatest education competition for federal dollars, called Race to the Top, have become very strict. Five reviewers for the U.S. Department of Education grilled the delegation of five Maryland officials in a highly structured meeting for 90 minutes exactly, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on the dot and ending at 10 a.m. Grasmick said that according to the large clock in the hotel suite in Washington where they met, they finished answering the last question two minutes before the deadline.
"We actually felt it was a good experience. We thought we operated well as a team," Grasmick said.
The team included Grasmick, O'Malley, Prince George's County schools Superintendent William Hite and two staff members from the Maryland State Department of Education who were involved in writing the 2,000-page application.
All five members had to answer questions, so everyone had to understand what was in the application, Grasmick said. The delegation met for a two-hour practice session one day and had a second meeting at the governor's mansion over a meal, said Shaun Adamec, the governor's press secretary.
O'Malley, who is the only one of the delegation not immersed in education daily, also had some sessions with an education adviser. Adamec said O'Malley was "particularly upbeat" when he emerged. "He felt there were strong questions and the delegation had equally strong responses," he said.
Maryland was one of several states defending applications, and the delegations emerged at the same time from the independent sessions at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
There was friendly banter between O'Malley and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Adamec said. O'Malley jokingly shouted across the room at Crist that Maryland had done a better job than Florida.
"I have never seen anything like it," Adamec said of the competition. "It was friendly, but it was definitely competitive."
The state is one of 19 finalists in the $3.4 billion competition; the winners are expected to be announced by the beginning of September.
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