TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Jeb Bush didn't expect to get the endorsement of the Florida Education Association, but former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno may have been disappointed Thursday when the teachers union said it supported her rival for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Reno is considered the front-runner against Bush in this year's election, but the 120,000-strong union of teachers, custodians and cafeteria workers decided they would get the biggest bang for the buck from backing Bill McBride, a Tampa attorney and newcomer to politics.
"He had a presence that we thought would take him into the governor's office," said FEA president Maureen Dinnen.
Dinnen said the union was upset with Bush's changes in education funding levels and the way the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is used to grade schools.
Bush's campaign manager said Floridians are proud of what the governor has done for education.
"Florida's children are learning more," Karen Unger said. "Our schools are improving through higher standards, accountability and increased funding."
Unger also pointed out that the number of schools that earned failing grades based on the FCAT results has dropped from 78 three years ago to zero.
FEA had asked Bush to be interviewed for consideration of an endorsement, but the governor had conflicts in his schedule that made it impossible to meet with the union.
So the teachers had to choose among Democratic candidates Reno, McBride, state Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami.
McBride said he will come out ahead if the voters do as the union did.
"Evaluate my candidacy if you will on the people who are going to go shoulder to shoulder with me," he said.
A spokeswoman for Reno downplayed the significance of the endorsement.
"We're confident that the teachers will support Janet Reno in the general election against Governor Bush," said Julie Simon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.