Governor Asa Hutchinson has named University of Arkansas System lobbyist Johnny Key as his pick to head the Arkansas Department of Education. The former Republican state Representative from Mountain Home would replace former Democratic Governor Mike Beebe's appointee Tony Wood.
However, Key does not meet the post’s minimum requirements of having 10 years of experience in teaching and holding a master’s degree. In a press conference at the Capitol Monday, Hutchinson said he wants the Legislature to re-write the qualifications to allow Key to become Education Commissioner.
“There’s not anyone more qualified than him in terms of understanding education, understanding the Lake Village case…the Lake View Case and understanding our history of education in Arkansas. He was the chairman of the Senate Education Committee for over five years,” said Hutchinson.
While Key has no first-hand experience in a public school classroom, he contends he still has a grasp on education from a classroom-level vantage point.
“My mom was a teacher for 31 years and is retired. Obviously, growing up I got a lot of perspective from her side and I have a lot of other family members and friends that are educators. The key I believe is surrounding yourself with those who bring the right perspectives and bring different ideas,” said Key.
Both Hutchinson and Key said discussing most specific policy issues is premature. Although, speaking to reporters Key did briefly touch on his perception of the role of charter schools in public education.
“I think they will remain a vital part of the options that we have. Whether they expand or contract, I think that’s going to depend on the needs that are out there,” said Key. “In some areas of the state, it’s going to be more likely than others to see charters grow.”
Key said he generally sees support for charter schools as an avenue to address the shortcomings of struggling schools.
“Most charter advocates don’t even think they are the panacea but they are an option. I think the General Assembly back then , as the General Assembly now believes, that we need to keep as many options open for parents. I think you’ve got good charter schools that give those parents options,” said Key.
The future development of charter schools was not directly linked by Key to the state’s plan for the recently taken-over Little Rock School District but Key did identify managing the LRSD as one of the state's top priorities.
“The biggest public issue right now is the Little Rock School District. I’m going to work hard to get caught up to speed with where everything is there,” said Key. “Our capital city has to have good schools and we’re going to make that work. We’re going to make that happen, we have no choice. Working with the communities, working with our leaders, the educators, the administrators, we all have to come together to make that happen and at some point and time in the future determining what’s the best way out.”