AUGUSTA – Lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday to strike down a legal barrier that has prevented the use of students’ testing data in teachers’ and principals’ evaluations.

It’s unclear, however, whether the measure that passed satisfies the legislation’s original purpose: allowing Maine to apply for as much as $75 million in a federal education reform competition and qualify for nearly $160 million in federal education funds next year.

The House and Senate took final votes Wednesday on L.D. 1799, the third of three bills meant to bolster the state’s position in the federal Race to the Top competition.

votes of 80-67 in the House and 22-13 in the Senate, legislators pushed through an amendment to the bill that forms a five-member task force to pre-approve evaluation models that school districts must choose from if they want to use students’ data in staff evaluations.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, introduced the amendment during debate on Monday. The state teachers’ union, the Maine Education Association, fought for the measure and will have a representative on the task force, along with groups representing superintendents, school boards, principals and special education directors.

The task force will finish its work by July 1, 2011. Afterward, legislative action will be needed to approve new evaluation models.

Gov. John Baldacci is expected to sign the legislation, said David Farmer, Baldacci’s deputy chief of staff.

“We’re going to have a lot of different models to evaluate, and I think that’s good,” Alfond said.

While the measure could spur some school districts to change their teacher evaluations, it might still prevent Maine from sending in its Race to the Top application.

The Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion in the midst of legislative debate Wednesday, saying the amended measure doesn’t fully strike down the prohibition on evaluating teachers with students’ test data.

The Attorney General’s Office would have to sign off on Maine’s Race to the Top application, assuring federal officials that Maine allows linking students’ data with teachers’ evaluations.

That barrier also must be struck down if Maine is to qualify for $59 million in economic recovery money and about $100 million in other federal school funds in 2011-12.

“At least the Legislature has taken the step to allow districts to use student data in the way the U.S. Department of Education requires,” said Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin.

While the Maine Education Association opposed the legislation, President Chris Galgay said the amended version at least guarantees teachers a say in how they’re evaluated. “All our intent was to be an equal partner in that room,” he said.