Congress has no shortage of “must-do” chores on the list in the face of a potential government shutdown. Among those tasks is passing legislation to restore federal funding for hunter education and archery in the schools.
Congress can tell President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona that their attempt to starve schools of these essential programs is over. The U.S. House of Representatives just passed U.S. Rep. Mark Green’s (R-Tenn.) H.R. 5110, the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act, in an overwhelming 425-1 vote. The bill was unanimously approved in a bipartisan fashion by the House Education and Workforce Committee. It’s now on to the U.S. Senate, which now must act to save hunter education funding for schools.
The NSSF-supported bill would clarify that school programs for educating students in archery, hunting or other shooting sports are eligible for funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
Last night, I voted to protect funding for archery and hunting education in public schools, which the Department of Education tried to strip away.
The Biden Administration’s anti-gun agenda is so extreme that even the vast majority of Democrats voted with us on this bill. pic.twitter.com/6I5dYf46PN
— Congressman Mike Ezell (@RepEzell) September 27, 2023
A Brief History Lesson
White House officials attempted to skirt by unnoticed in their decision to withhold critical federal funding under the ESEA of 1965 for elementary and secondary schools nationwide with hunting or archery programs in their curriculum. There was no fanfare behind the decision. No announcement from The White House Rose Garden or major presidential speech. Instead, Sec. Cardona simply confirmed the wrongheaded decision when they could no longer ignore requests for comments.
“This prohibition applies to all ESEA funds,” a Department of Education spokesperson said, according to Fox News. “The prohibition went into effect immediately on June 25, 2022, and applies to all existing and future awards under all ESEA programs. The Department is administering the bipartisan law as written by Congress.”
The decision to withhold the ESEA funds for hunting and archery programs under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) impacts thousands of schools and millions of American students.
Congressman Green’s bill to restore and protect funding for scholastic hunter education and archery would seem like an educational no-brainer. Except President Biden, through Sec. Cardona, deliberately misread the text and intent of BSCA to shut off funding for hunter education and archery programs in schools. That move enraged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill. Multiple letters have been sent to Sec. Cardona to reverse course.
Congress Gives Failing Grade
“Defunding shooting sports in schools would be a disservice to students,” Rep. Green said in a press release. “These extracurricular activities are keeping kids out of trouble, making them more focused at school, helping them build community, and giving them scholarship opportunities. Sports like archery and trap shooting are some of the fastest-growing sports in the country.”
The time to strike back against this executive overreach to wipe away true firearm safety programs is now. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill are outraged that the Biden administration conjured up the idea that the BSCA gave them authority to deny schools funding for the programs.
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) introduced H. Res. 615, a House resolution condemning the Biden administration’s attack on schools that educate students on responsible firearm handling.
“President Biden’s push to outlaw hunter and archery programs deprives Wisconsin students of valuable hunting lessons that make our children more comfortable outdoors,” Rep. Grothman said in a press release. “The federal government has no place in our schools. The decision to weaponize federal funds to target schools offering this training is a gross abuse of power that goes against the best interest of America’s next generation.”
Congressman Bruce Westerman, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, wrote a column denouncing the Biden administration’s ham-fisted effort to cut off funding for the scholastic hunter education and archery.
“Not only will students lose the positive social, academic, and mental health benefits associated with these programs, but the misinterpretation also undermines opportunities for hunter education courses that have been accredited with reducing fatalities and injuries related to hunting by over 80% since 1959,” Chairman Westerman wrote. “I signed onto the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act to ensure that this does not happen again.”
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, a bipartisan and bicameral caucus of Capitol Hill lawmakers, noted that this politically-driven blockage of hunter education funding will negatively impact over 1.3 million students in 9,000 schools across 49 states.
“Unfortunately, by misinterpreting the legislative intent of the BSCA, the Department will soon negatively impact millions of students across the country,” the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus letter reads. “These programs are popular among teachers and school personnel because success in archery, hunting, target shooting, and outdoor classes can be achieved by students of all genders, abilities, and backgrounds.”
In the Senate, letters have been sent to The White House and Education Department to reverse course. Among the most recent was one bipartisan letter signed by 17 senators.
“Unfortunately, and contrary to Congressional intent, the Department of Education has misinterpreted the language to exclude certain educational activities from receiving federal resources,” wrote Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), leading the letter.
That was backed up by recommendations to the Senate Appropriations Committee to include language in the upcoming FY24 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill to reject the Education Department’s interpretation of BSCA. That letter was signed by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), one of the Senate’s most vocal supporters of gun control.
Before that, 19 Republican senators, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), wrote to President Biden urging him to reverse course on the decision to hunter education funding.
“The Biden Administration’s purposeful misinterpretation of the gun control bill is attempting to take away valuable programs from students across the country. Hunter education and archery programs are beneficial to students both in rural and urban areas,” Sen. Barrasso wrote, adding, “This outrageous overreach is an attack on hunters and outdoor recreation that must be addressed.”
Any observer of Capitol Hill knows that angst over politically-driven policies to satisfy special interests is easy. Action is harder. It is also more concrete. There are a few things that Congress can agree upon, but this issue stands apart. There is wide bipartisan consensus that the Biden administration’s attempt to throttle scholastic hunter education and archery is wrong. The chance to remedy it is now.
The House of Representatives has acted on this urgently-needed legislation and sent it to the Senate, where it also deserves a speedy vote. Congress must tell The White House that true firearm safety and proven programs that benefit children from all walks of life must not be tampered with to appease special interests.
Congress must pass the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.