At a conference on how to raise the national graduation rate among high-schoolers, O'Malley said good schools take money and investment.
"We're at a time in our country where everyone wants to eat cake and lose weight," he says. "We all want great schools, but at the same time many of us want leaders to tell us what solves all of our nation's problems is another tax cut."
McDonnell responded to his colleague by saying the role money plays in schools is often over-emphasized.
"So much of what I think of determines the outcomes for are young people is a good principal. It's a concerned, qualified teacher. It's an engaged parent. And it's a type of environment you create where a kid feels welcome and feels motivated," he says.
Public schools in both states are ranked in the top five in the country, according to the publication Education Week.
Organizers of the conference report that Maryland has slightly higher graduation rates, but Virginia has fewer schools rated as "dropout factories."