This story was updated May 23, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.
NASHVILLE — A political action committee associated with Tennessee's largest teachers organization has endorsed Republican state House Speaker Beth Harwell and House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh in the candidates' respective GOP and Democratic gubernatorial primaries.
The Tennessee Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education, the political arm of the Tennessee Education Association, made the announcement Wednesday.
"We think education in Tennessee would be well served by these two dedicated public servants," TEA president Barbara Gray said of Harwell and Fitzhugh in a news release. "It is clear both have listened to teachers, students and parents about what the state can do to support public schools, and the important decisions the next governor needs to make."
Gray said Harwell and Fitzhugh "have strong differences on many issues, but a respect for teachers and the hard work that goes on every day in classrooms is something they share, and something the committee felt critical for the next governor."
Noting TEA membership is "diverse politically and geographically," the association says its members "participate at a much higher rate in Republican and Democratic party primaries than the average Tennessee voter, with education being the number one issue."
It's the second endorsement Harwell and Fitzhugh have picked up from public employees groups. Earlier this month, the Tennessee State Employees Association's political action committee endorsed the pair.
TEA officials say Harwell is recognized as the only educator in the contest and is both knowledgeable and concerned about the use of testing outcomes on educators and problems with TNReady, the state's tests that have faced challenges over the last several years. They also praised Harwell's work to boost teacher pay.
The organization praised Fitzhugh, as well, especially for his involvement this year on efforts to "hold harmless" teachers on using test scores to measure educators' effectiveness after new problems erupted in the online TNReady student-testing system. Fitzhugh's push for boosting teacher pay also helped secure TEA support.
Gray said TEA members "know that in Tennessee the primary is often more important than the general election, and that is why educators get involved in the party of their choice."
With polling showing education remains a top issue for voters, Gray said, "we will be working hard to help pro-public-school Republicans and Democrats in General Assembly primaries, and to have strong education gubernatorial nominees."
In the Aug. 2 Republican gubernatorial primary, Harwell is competing with U.S. Rep. Diane Black, Knoxville businessman and former state economic and community development commissioner Randy Boyd and Franklin businessman Bill Lee.
Fitzhugh and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean are running in the Democratic primary.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.