The cutoff date for the second qualifying round of billions of dollars in federal Race to the Top funding has come and gone, and Maine’s entry was left at the starting gate.

Maine didn’t enter the first round last March, when the Department of Education allocated $600 million to just two states, Delaware and Tennessee, for their plans to improve student performance in public schools. This time around, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the finalists to receive a share of $3.4 billion.

Maine was one of 36 states in this round, and the Baldacci administration had hoped for a $75 million grant for its plan to create a system of “personalized learning” that would let students seek high school diplomas by mastering content at a pace matching their individual learning styles.

However, when Duncan released the results at a speech at Washington’s National Press Club on Wednesday, the 19 finalists did not include Maine.

It’s not exactly back to the drawing board for the state, which recently received $7.3 million to track the progress of students from early childhood until they enter the work force. Another application is pending for $7.6 million to help schools with low graduation rates boost their performance.

Still, in a state with a dropout problem and a low rate of students going on to higher education, missing out on a chance to put $75 million toward solutions is a difficult loss to absorb.

Analysts at the state Department of Education should carefully study the applications of finalists to see what the federal DOE is seeking, and pay special attention when the final list of grant winners is announced.

In the meantime, Secretary Duncan had another word for his audience. He told them that all U.S. schools fall short in the time children spend in a formal learning environment.

“I think schools should be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day, seven days a week, 11-12 months of the year” for not only standard classes but in areas now considered electives, such as art and music, Duncan said. “Schools in countries that are beating us are going to school 25-30 days more than us.”

It appears that a longer school year isn’t merely a good policy, it could be a way to get close to Duncan’s heart.

And, perhaps, his list of finalists.