Candidate Q&A: House District 12

Election 2023

Our public education questionnaire is offered to candidates in statewide and legislative elections. Search for candidates’ questionnaire responses below. Election dates: Primary – August 8, 2023, General – November 7, 2023

General Election Candidates:
Clay Deweese (Incumbent)  •  Donna Niewiaroski

Clay Deweese (Incumbent)


Donna Niewiaroski

1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family?
Mother and husband public school teachers from elementary to high school levels. I taught at community college and universities. Journalism and English. Everybody in my family went to public schools.

2. Do you agree that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) should be fully funded every year? If yes, what actions will you take to ensure full funding? If no, explain why.
Absolutely, MAEP should be fully funded every year. As a legislator I will vote consistently to abide by MAEP laws; I intend to introduce legislation to create incentives to fully fund the program each year, such as requiring MAEP funding FIRST before other budget matters are considered.

3. What will you do to ensure state revenue that is sufficient to provide all of the services Mississippi’s citizens need to lead productive lives?
We have the revenue; we have the resources and a budget surplus. Expanding Medicaid alone provides a $1 billion nest egg that will only grow each year. Think of the programs that can fund! It requires commitment to public education, which has not been the case since 2009, beyond lip service. I am a public school product and believe all our children deserve the best resources and education opportunities, much of which this state HAS ALREADY COMMITTED TO PROVIDE. It’s time we abide by our promises.

4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not?
Yes, I will vociferously oppose. Vouchers have consistently whittled away public school commitment, resources, a belief in the necessity of public education, and have served to permit public school infrastructure to deteriorate. Since the advent of vouchers across the country, public school systems have suffered from the diversion of resources. Fully fund public schools and stop shunting valuable funds away from our most valuable resource: ALL children.

5. Do you agree that all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer dollars, including private voucher schools, should be accountable to taxpayers for the quality of education they provide, using the same accountability measures as public schools?
Absolutely. Standards are critical means to assess our children’s progress; the health of any program requires means of measurement that are uniform.

6. Public schools serve the vast majority of Mississippi students with disabilities. Do you agree that special education services in public schools should be fully funded every year? (Special education has been underfunded by the state every year since 2008.) If yes, how will you accomplish full funding? If no, explain why.
Absolutely. We have a surplus. Since education is only 22% of the budget, based on your calculations, more can be allocated to specific programs.

7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide?
Absolutely. Early childhood education has been shown to vastly improve a child’s educational advancement and career choices. Moreover, you want to get folks off welfare, give them childcare, it’s been shown workers work better when they are confident about their child’s care and education. MS lags in most indices, especially child poverty and child care access. Poverty, while not directly influencing a capacity to learn, is a factor in a child’s ability to access resources.

8. The nation’s top teachers say that the greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students are family stress, poverty, and learning and psychological problems. What steps do you believe legislators should take to alleviate these obstacles for Mississippi children?
Expand Medicaid. Give parents and children healthcare (already over 32k have been kicked off the rolls) and they will be healthy, work, study, be engaged. You want folks off welfare, give them health care. You want folks off welfare, give them childcare. Allocate remaining Covid funds for infrastructure in high poverty areas. Allocate existing funds — we have a surplus — to mental health programs in the schools.

9. In the 2022 Legislative Session, a significant teacher pay raise was passed. Do you support continued pay increases to ensure that Mississippi’s teacher salaries keep pace with inflation and salaries in our neighboring states?
Yes, I support continued pay increases. I also support paying teachers what was owed them all those years they did not receive the raise — approximately 10 years of cost of living. Shameful that we don’t pay our teachers remotely what they’re worth and their value to our communities.

10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their retirement while serving in the Legislature?

11. Legislators have little or no staff to help them understand the many bills they must consider. Before introducing or supporting a bill that could affect public education, will you commit to seeking input from teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents of public school students in your district? Who will be advising you on education policies?
Absolutely. I have expressly sought out educators to be a part of my committee. I intend to expand the number of educators on my staff once elected.

12. In the past, legislators have received tremendous pressure from the leaders of their chamber (House or Senate), state and party leaders, and corporate lobbyists, to vote in ways that could contradict the will of their constituents and harm their communities. How would you respond to such pressure?
Stand by my values, which is to honor our pledges of support and funding; fully fund and support PUBLIC education; regularly meet with constituents and educators; arm myself with the facts to refute outright and blatant PR pressure.

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