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The state's largest teachers union once again is throwing its support behind Gov. Gary Herbert's re-election Wednesday, calling the governor a "champion of education" during his tenure in office.

The Utah Education Association's political action committee has endorsed the governor in each of his three bids for office, although in 2010 the union also endorsed his Democratic opponent, Peter Corroon.

"Gov. Herbert has been a champion of education throughout his time in office and Utah educators support his re-election," said Heidi Matthews, Utah Education Association (UEA) president. "The governor has consistently supported Utah teachers as we work to help our students reach their full potential."

Herbert is seeking re-election against Democrat Mike Weinholtz. Herbert has called for more spending on education, but has said he doesn't plan to raise taxes to do it. Weinholtz has said he wants to raise taxes on Utahns making more than $250,000 in order to push more money to education, though some of that would go to colleges and universities. He also wants to phase out the state's 110 charter schools; Herbert does not.

Herbert has consistently touted education as his top budget priority, highlighting $1.8 billion in new money the government has steered to education in the past five years.

Overall, education funding during Herbert's tenure has grown by $403 million over six years, according to reports from the Legislative Fiscal Analyst, as the state had to make steep cuts amid the recession and then struggled to climb back to historic levels. Utah remains at the bottom of per-pupil spending nationwide.

Weinholtz said in a statement that the UEA made the "safe political choice to endorse the incumbent," but he criticized Herbert for his "many failures on education."

"It's frankly bizarre to see an incumbent governor [who is] running for a third term claim education as a priority when under his administration we've remained dead last in funding per student," Weinholtz said. "Under Gov. Herbert, education in Utah has been chronically underfunded, teachers underpaid, and now we have a statewide teacher shortage to show for it."

Weinholtz said he wouldn't wait until an election year to make education a priority.

The Herbert campaign noted that high school graduation rates have increased by 10 percent and Utah's 8th graders are ranked in the top 10 nationwide in reading and science.

"Utah teachers are dedicated professionals who are committed to helping our students succeed, and I am honored to receive their support," Herbert said in a statement. "A great education is essential to individual success and a well-educated population is critical to our state's long-term economic competitiveness. I am committed to supporting our teachers as they work to help our students succeed."

The teachers union spent $200,000 on pro-Herbert advertising in June, when he faced primary challenger Jonathan Johnson.

The UEA did not make any endorsements in the U.S. Senate race or three of the four congressional races, choosing to back only Democrat Doug Owens in his 4th District rematch against Rep. Mia Love.

In the state Senate, the UEA is endorsing Sens. Luz Escamilla, Brian Shiozawa, and David Hinkins and Democratic challengers Deanna Froerer, who is running against Sen. Allen Christensen, and Alan Yorgason, who is facing off against Republican Gregg Buxton. Both races are in Weber County.

In the House races, the UEA is recommending re-electing Republican Reps. Dixon Pitcher, Steve Handy, Ray Ward, Becky Edwards, Doug Sagers, Lee Perry, Sophia DiCaro, Craig Hall, Eric Hutchings, Jim Dunnigan, Steve Eliason, Robert Spendlove and Merril Nelson, and Democratic Reps. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, Mark Wheatley, Patrice Arent, Carol Spackman Moss and Marie Poulson.It also is endorsing candidates Val Potter, Kathie Darby, Amy Morgan, Mike Winder, Suzanne Harrison, Karen Kwan, Christine Passey, John Rendell and Susan Pulsipher.

And in state school board races, the UEA is backing Jennifer Graviet, Carol Barlow-Lear, Janet Cannon, Kathleen Riebe, Erin Preston, Dixie Allen and West Christiansen.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke