Education group backs Republican McKenna for governor

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OLYMPIA -- An education advocacy group that typically supports Democrats endorsed Republican Rob McKenna for governor Friday, saying he has concrete proposals that would improve outcomes for students.

Stand for Children Washington said McKenna, the state's attorney general, was aligned with the group's policy goals. He drew the support of board member Jennifer Vranek, a lifelong Democrat who acknowledged struggling with the decision to back McKenna.

"The fact is that party labels just aren't a good enough reason to not endorse the right champion for education," she said. "I was really impressed with McKenna's depth of knowledge and passion about education. We're looking for a change agent, and after the interviews it was clear that Rob McKenna will prioritize education and get better results for our kids."

In the 2008 election, Stand for Children endorsed Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire. The group also gave 19 legislative endorsements to Democrats that year, compared to just six for Republicans.

Candidates' responses

McKenna has said he wants to shrink other areas of state government to dedicate more funding to education. He also supports charter schools and linking teacher pay to the success of students -- two things that Democrats and the teachers union have typically opposed.

"We have to decide that education and public schools are going to be our top priority," McKenna said in a statement Friday. "The union is a very important stakeholder. So are individual teachers, so are the other adults in the system. But most of all it's the kids."

Democratic candidate Jay Inslee's campaign said he shares many of the same goals and proposals as Stand for Children. Spokeswoman Jaime Smith said he is focused on adopting more "innovative schools" and ensuring that the state has the highest quality teaching.

"Jay is fully committed to working with all organizations seeking to improve education for our children, including Stand, in a way that fosters collaboration instead of bringing up old battles," Smith said.

Inslee has been endorsed by the Washington Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.