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Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley were in the District Tuesday to kick off the three-day Building a Grad Nation Summit in the District.

The two governors were part of a four-person panel on the nation’s dropout rates, which also included Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.

But the local leaders did not escape a question on the hot-button issue of teachers unions and whether they are a burden or benefit to progressing the education system.

Virginia banned public-sector bargaining 20 years ago, but the 60,000-member Virginia Education Association advocates for state school employees.

“I think we manage well without a union,” said Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, “but the influence and input of the association is helpful.”

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said that although he’s aware that it’s easy to paint unions as big, bad and evil, “in the toughest of times the people of Maryland would not have come together [EnLeader] if not for the hard work of teachers unions.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports