TRENTON — New Jersey's biggest teachers' union on Saturday endorsed Phil Murphy's bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, saying his "pro-public education stance is in line" with its members' values.

The New Jersey Education Association announced the endorsement after its 125-member political action committee unanimously backed the former ambassador and Goldman Sachs executive.

"From high-stakes testing to college affordability to school funding, Murphy has a clear, well-thought out plan that prioritizes education and the needs of the school employees who have made New Jersey's public schools a global leader" union President Wendell Steinhauer said in a statement announcing the endorsement.

Murphy said he was "proud and deeply humbled" to gain the endorsement.

"New Jersey's educators deserve a governor who will treat them with respect and who will honor the work they do in our schools and communities," he said. "Creating the educated workforce we will need to grow our economy and create new opportunities begins with our schools."

The NJEA is an influential political player, particularly in Democratic politics. It gave nearly $4 million to political action committees in 2015 with the aim of helping Democrats get elected.

The union said it will conduct a similar screening process for the Republican gubernatorial candidates at a later date.

The NJEA has fought bitterly with Republican Gov. Chris Christie over pension reforms. Most notably, the union clashed with Christie over his decision to underfund the public pension payment in 2014 after tax revenues fell below expectations and despite a 2011 law requiring specific payments.

The state Supreme Court sided with Christie, leaving the union with few options, except helping elect a Democrat who shares its views.

Christie is term limited and cannot run again in 2017. The NJEA also backed Democrats for governor in 2013 and 2009, both of whom lost to Christie.

The union's endorsement comes after a good couple of weeks for Murphy, who entered the 2017 gubernatorial contest in May expecting to face Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Senate President Steve Sweeney. But both men dropped out before officially starting their campaigns and backed Murphy, who also has won the backing of carpenters, police and fire unions in the last week.

A former finance chairman for the Democratic Party, Murphy has deep pockets, loaning his campaign $10 million.

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