Republican Gov. Rick Perry touted the state's education progress, while Democrat Bill White said too many children are not graduating from high school and that state leaders have been downplaying the problem.
The Austin American-Statesman reported that Perry told a roomful of middle school students they were proof that the state is moving in the right direction. The students were competing to represent the state in a national math competition.
"We are bound and determined to prepare you for a very bright future," Perry said. "Our public education is continually improving. It is getting better as each day and year goes by in Texas, as a result of increased accountability."
Meanwhile, White called for a dose of "realism and honesty" about the state's education system when addressing the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
"The solution to the dropout rate is not to lie about it," said White, a former mayor of Houston. "We need to be realistic. We don't have room for lost kids in our system."
Perry disputed White's reading of the graduation numbers and said White was the one who was not being honest.
There is no single accepted method for counting high school dropouts -- and each method produces different results.
A study released last year from the Texas A&M Bush School of Government and Public Service projected the dropout rate for the class of 2012 to be 12.2 percent to 22.2 percent -- or 40,519 to 73,692 students -- using the various measures.
Perry said Texas voters have sent a clear message to candidates in the past that "if your political tack is to tear down Texas, we don't want you."
White said acknowledging that Texas has problems is not tearing down Texas, but "means that we care."