LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday said former state Sen. Johnny Key is his pick to be the next state education commissioner and said he is asking the Legislature to change state law to allow Key to take the job.

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday said former state Sen. Johnny Key is his pick to be the next state education commissioner and said he is asking the Legislature to change state law to allow Key to take the job.


Arkansas law requires the education commissioner to have a master’s degree and at least 10 years of teaching experience, at least five of which must be in an administrative or supervisory position. In a news conference Monday, Hutchinson said he supports loosening the eligibility requirements for the position.


Key was a Republican state senator from 2003 to 2014 and was chairman of the Senate Education Committee for five years. He resigned July 31 to take a position as vice president for university relations for the University of Arkansas System.


"No one is more respected in education than Johnny Key," Hutchinson said. "He was able to work in a bipartisan way when he was in the Legislature. He is respected by both sides."


Key said during the news conference, "Our state has invested too much over its history in education for us not to keep moving forward, to set up a high bar of expectation, and we’re going to do that. … We’ve been talking the last decade about adequacy. We’re going to start moving towards talking about excellence."


Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, filed a bill Monday, Senate Bill 681, that would require either the education commissioner or the deputy education commissioner to meet the eligibility requirements that currently apply to the education commissioner. Clark said the current deputy commissioner, Mike Hernandez, meets those requirements.


Earlier in the session, Clark filed a bill that would have required the education commissioner to have 10 years of "direct or indirect" experience in education, "including without limitation as a teacher, administrator or policy maker."


That bill, SB 176, drew opposition from some in education, including the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators. Clark said the resistance to that bill prompted him to file SB 681.


Richard Abernathy, executive director of the AAEA, said Monday the association would review SB 681. He said the group opposed the earlier bill because under it, "you could literally wipe out every position over there where no one had any experience in education."


Abernathy also said he believed Key would make "a good commissioner."


Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, the current chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Monday that Key "is very thoughtful. He understands education."


English said she expects broad support for SB 681.


"We did it for Shane Broadway," she said, referring to legislation that changed the eligibility requirements for director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education so that former state Sen. Shane Broadway could take the position in 2013.


Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, chairman of the House Education Committee, said Key "will be a spectacular guy to work with. He’s very knowledgeable (about) what we do here."


Cozart said he had concerns about Clark’s earlier bill but said he supports SB 681 because it ensures that "there’s somebody standing there that has those requirements in one of those positions."


The governor does not appoint the education commissioner directly but recommends a candidate to the state Board of Education. The board traditionally votes to approve the governor’s choice.


Key would replace Tony Wood, whom former Gov. Mike Beebe appointed last summer to replace Tom Kimbrell after Kimbrell accepted the job of superintendent of the Bryant School District. Hutchinson said Monday he hopes Wood will continue to work for the state Department of Education in some capacity.