As a judge begins considering Tuesday whether Texas is adequately funding public schools, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says this about the state's teachers: They're bringing home a decent paycheck.
"At the end of the day, we're paying our school teachers — when you count in cost of living — a very fair salary," Dewhurst said Monday night during a debate against the three big-name GOP challengers trying to deny him a fourth term.
State Sen. Dan Patrick said afterward that Dewhurst's comment was "off the mark" and called for more pay for math and science teachers, who are needed in the state.
Texas consistently ranks near the bottom nationally in average teacher pay according to many groups that track classroom salaries, including teacher unions. One expert testified in the state's pivotal school finance trial last year that Texas' average teacher pay was about $47,300 in 2009-10 dollars — lower than the national average of nearly $55,000, and less than what 32 other states pay educators.
That trial ended with a state judge determining that the system Texas uses to finance public education is unconstitutional. New testimony is set to resume Tuesday in Austin.
Patrick lobbed the most attacks during the debate — usually against Dewhurst. But he also occasionally found himself on the defensive, including when Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson challenged Patrick for what he characterized as a ceremonial "no" on the final Texas budget vote after not opposing earlier versions last spring.
"My point is you voted yes, before you voted no," Patterson said.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is also running in the race, which features four largely ideologically indistinguishable conservatives. The primary is March 4 but the potential for a runoff is high.
Education is already shaping to be the biggest issue in the governor's race between Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis. Abbott has declined to weigh in on whether the state is adequately funding classrooms, while Davis says teachers are underpaid and decries stories of some working second or third jobs.