Democrat Stacey Evans earned the endorsement Tuesday of the Georgia Federation for Teachers, giving the former state legislator’s campaign for governor the support of an influential educators group.
The federation’s announcement came at an announcement at Evans’ campaign headquarters, and her supporters hope it draws more educators and parents away from her Democratic rival Stacey Abrams.
“Georgia teachers trust Stacey Evans,” said Verdaillia Turner, the federation’s president. “We know that with Stacey Evans we will have a governor who will strongly protect our public schools and our teachers.”
The group has long had strained ties with Abrams, the former top Democrat in the Georgia House, and they grew worse in 2015 over Gov. Nathan Deal’s failed education initiative.
Both the federation and Abrams opposed the measure, which would have given the state the power to take control of persistently struggling schools. But the group gave Abrams a vote of “no confidence” for what it said was her failure to block the plan from getting on the statewide ballot.
The measure squeaked through the House on a 121-47 vote - just one more than the 120 needed - despite some Republican opposition. Eleven Democrats – including Evans – broke party lines to back it.
“She knows that was one of our major hang-ups with her,” Turner said of Evans. “But she has actually sat down and looked at what we are going to do in the future. She’s willing to listen.”
Evans said she regretted that vote and said she supported Deal’s initiative at the time because she was “frustrated by a lack of action by state government” to help struggling schools.
The two Democratic candidates both have unveiled plans for universal pre-kindergarten and have called for significantly increased funding for K-12 education and tuition-free tech school programs.
Evans also proposed a community-schools model of funding and an overhaul of the school funding formula to account for poverty in a greater way, while Abrams unveiled a package of scholarships, tax credits and other initiatives to expand childcare options.
But they differ on the 2011 law that slashed funding for the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship program.
Abrams supported the changes as the only way to salvage the program and said she fought to prevent deeper cuts. Evans called it a betrayal that sparked her run for governor, and she’s put the scholarship – and the word “hope” – at the center of her campaign.
Evans also signaled she intends to use the group’s support to try to inoculate her from criticism that she’s not fervently opposed to school vouchers.
Abrams has accused Evans of voting to support vouchers, referring to Evans’ initial support of a student scholarship organization measure that she ultimately voted against. Evans said any attempt to cast her as a voucher backer “is a lie.”
The two rival candidates have divvied up endorsements in the race to replace a term-limited Deal, a battle of competing strategies that has divided the party.
Abrams has support from several key progressive advocacy groups, state legislators and labor groups, as a well as Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson. Evans earned endorsements from former Gov. Roy Barnes and more than a dozen current and former state lawmakers.
Five leading Republicans are locked in their own duel for their party’s nomination: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, former state Sen. Hunter Hill, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, businessman Clay Tippins and state Sen. Michael Williams.