Dewhurst said following the debate that, if he had his way, Texas teachers would be paid well enough that there would be a "tsunami of applicants." But he said when it comes to teacher salaries, the state is often compared to other regions with higher costs of living.
"That means instead of paying teachers little over $50,000 to $55,000 on average each teacher, when you factor that in and you compare it to other states, they're being paid substantially more," said Dewhurst, referring to Texas teachers.
Patrick, chairman of the Senate's education committee, said he's OK with boosting teacher pay so long as there's accountability.
"Some teachers that we have are underpaid, some teachers that we have are overpaid," Patrick said. "Let's focus on paying more money to teachers in the needed subject areas, and let's pay more money to teachers who perform."
Dewhurst, 68, is the only major statewide office holder trying to keep his current job, which he's held since 2002. He says he wants one more term before returning to the private sector. Dewhurst is also by far the wealthiest candidate in the race, but spending $25 million of his personal future in 2012 still wasn't enough to defeat Ted Cruz for a U.S. Senate seat.
Staples has been agriculture commissioner since 2006 and Patterson was first elected land commissioner since 2002. Patrick has served in the Senate since 2007.
All four candidates backed away from the concept of repealing the 17th Amendment and letting state lawmakers choose U.S. senators, which has recently gained traction among some conservative groups.
"If we didn't have direct elections of senators, Ted Cruz wouldn't be in the United States senate today," said Staples, drawing hollers and cheers from the crowd.