AUGUSTA – The Maine House balked Tuesday at an attempt by the Senate to strip down a piece of legislation meant to bolster Maine’s bid for millions in federal education reform funds.

On a 130-4 vote, representatives indefinitely postponed a bill to strike down a legal barrier preventing the use of students’ test data in evaluating of teachers and principals. House members said they want senators to reconsider a bill amendment they approved Monday night.

Maine must eliminate the legal barrier before it can enter Race to the Top, a federal competition aimed at spurring education reform. Maine could receive up to $75 million if its application is successful.

The original bill recommended by the Legislature’s Education Committee would have struck down that prohibition. But a stripped-down version approved by senators would limit how districts can evaluate teachers and principals, if they use student testing data.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, introduced an amendment Monday that was favored by the state teachers’ union, the Maine Education Association.

The amendment would create a five-member task force to develop models for school districts to use to evaluate staff members with testing data.

The task force — with representatives from the MEA and groups for superintendents, school boards, principals and special education directors — would approve models before July 1, 2011.

To evaluate teachers based on students’ test data — a step toward performance-based pay for teachers — districts would have to choose one of those pre-approved options.

“This will give (teachers) the protections that they want, and I’m anxious to get started and sit down with all the education groups and develop some models for the state,” said MEA President Chris Galgay.

The MEA still opposes the law change, Galgay said, but the amended version would give teachers more protection. “At least they know that their association will do its best to have some say over how they will be evaluated.”

Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, a gubernatorial candidate, said the measure amounts to giving the teachers’ union a veto over evaluation systems.

“I’m worried about the future of education in Maine,” he said. “We’re going to rate teachers on how they dress, whether they brushed their teeth and whether they combed their hair, because if you take away student performance, what do you have left?”