The Virginia Education Association’s political arm endorsed Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe for governor during its annual convention in Hampton, which concluded Saturday.

The endorsement was announced after McAuliffe was the only contender to attend the teachers association’s candidates forum Thursday. GOP candidate and attorney general Ken Cuccinelli did not respond to the invitation, union officials said.

Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix said the candidate had another obligation in Northern Virginia the same night.

“Virginia’s school children deserve a governor who understands that great public schools are the avenue for a better future for the commonwealth,” said Meg Gruber, president of the state’s largest group representing teachers and support workers.

“Terry McAuliffe not only knows this, he is prepared to act on this belief to strengthen public schools and make sure all children have an opportunity to get a great education and thrive in the new economy.”

McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman who lost the Democratic nomination for governor in 2009, is running as a business-friendly moderate. He has campaigned on increasing funding for public schools as an important investment in the workforce.

Robley S. Jones, director of government affairs for the Virginia Education Association, said Cucinelli is the first GOP candidate in 20 years to skip the forum. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) attended four years ago, Jones recalled, and he got a “rousing ovation” for some of his comments.

Jones said he was surprised the attorney general would miss the opportunity to address a room full of teachers, custodians and librarians, and ultimately appeal to more centrist voters.

“That’s the way you win races, ” he said.