Tuesday April 13, 2010 | 06:38 PM

A shadow of sorts will hang over the first of a number of conversations the Department of Education is planning this week about Maine's Race to the Top application. The first is set for Wednesday.

It's the same shadow that colored debate last week about L.D. 1799, the bill that intended to strike down Maine's legal barrier that prevents the use of student achievement data in teacher and principal evaluations: The Attorney General's office is raising doubts as to whether the state Legislature has indeed eliminated that prohibition. Striking it down is, of course, a requirement before Maine can apply for up to $75 million in Race to the Top funds.

Linda Pistner, Maine's Chief Deputy Attorney General, wrote in an opinion last week that the last-minute, teachers' union-favored amendment lawmakers attached to the legislation leaves open the possibility that a five-member panel charged with pre-approving evaluation models might not approve any that incorporate student testing data.

When I followed up with the Attorney General's office later in the week, spokeswoman Kate Simmons told me the Pister opinion isn't a guarantee that the Attorney General won't sign Maine's Race to the Top application, as she needs to do to certify that no legal barrier exists that prevents using student data to evaluate teachers.

Instead, Simmons told me, more review is needed. That review, she said, will involve determining what legislators' intent was in passing L.D. 1799; that will be determined by reviewing legislative debate on the matter.

Department of Education staff members are continuing work on the state's Race to the Top application and are planning to reveal important details about it on Wednesday. They're going about the work as if Attorney General Janet Mills will indeed affix her signature where it's required, as if Pistner's opinion were a last-minute way for the executive branch to influence last week's debate on the Governor Baldacci-sponsored legislation.

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