Over objections from some members, the House Education Committee today approved SB 681 to eliminate the requirement that the education commissioner have a teacher’s certificate, a master’s degree and 10 years of teaching and administrative experience.
The bill is necessary for Johnny Key to get the job, as Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants. He’s a former senator and once owned a religious-themed pre-school.
Rep. John Walker questioned Rep. Bruce Cozart, who carried the bill, on the rationale for eliminating the qualifications. Cozart said it had been done before, when Shane Broadway was named to head Higher Education despite lacking a doctoral degree then required by law. Walker said the circumstances were different. Broadway was just an administrator. Key, he noted, will be running schools, including the 48 in Little Rock, now under state control.
Cozart noted that the bill will require that the deputy commissioner meet qualifications if the commissioner does not.
Cozart said Key was a “great person and he will do a great job.” Rep. Charlotte Douglas said Key probably learned more about education sitting on legislative education committees than many superintendents who’d be qualified for the job. Rep. Reginald Murdock wondered about the danger of setting a precedent. Cozart said the legislature changes precedents every day. He said there are a lot of “self-made people who have no education.”
Walker said that qualifications had often been held up as a bar to jobs for minorities and now the state was eliminating them from an important job.
Some Democrats joined in the vote to approve Key, who is personally well liked and is perceived as a better choice than others Hutchinson was likely to come up with. Supporters of the Little Rock School District best hope it wasn’t a test vote on the school privatization bill being pushed by Walton Family Foundation-funded lobbyists and the governor. Key, a long-time charter school advocate, is likely to move aggressively to take over operation of Little Rock schools, taxes and facilities for operation by private companies under another bill Cozart has introduced.