PORTLAND — The Maine Education Association today endorsed Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell in the governor’s race this fall.

“As a former classroom teacher, Libby understands the challenges and the rewards of teaching in a public school,” MEA President Chris Galgay said during a news conference at Portland High School. “She understands that educators must be partners and collaborators in making sure all of Maine’s schools are successful.”

MItchell said she was grateful for the endorsement, noting that she would like to be known as Maine’s education governor.

“I think education is the key to improving the lives of all Mainers,” Mitchell said. “It’s the key to putting people back to work, to creating new jobs, to raising incomes and to keeping young people in Maine.”

Mitchell said she is committed to making sure the voices of teachers, parents and students are heard in Augusta, and to promoting innovative educational models such as Expeditionary Learning at King Middle School and the community support for education that is demonstrated in Jackman.

Before endorsing Mitchell, MEA members invited the five candidates for governor to be interviewed. Four attended the meetings and shared their views on public education.

After the interviews, members cast ballots for the candidate of their choice, recommending Mitchell for endorsement. The MEA board of directors voted to approve the endorsement.

“Maine needs an experienced, competent, and committed leader,” Galgay said. “Maine needs someone with proven leadership skills and a bipartisan track record. Maine needs someone focused on improving our great public schools. Maine needs someone who knows how to bring parties together to find solutions. Maine needs someone that inspires the best in all of us. Maine needs Libby Mitchell.”

Republican candidate Paul LePage was the only candidate who failed to respond to MEA’s request for an interview. He has proposed sweeping education reforms that would reduce school administration, tie teacher evaluations to student performance and increase competition for public school funding.

The MEA is a statewide union that represents 25,000 teachers, professors and others who work for public school districts, the community college and university systems, and the Maine Public Broadcast Corp.