There are still more questions than answers right now as the conservation community grapples with the Biden administration’s withholding of funding to public schools over school archery and hunter safety programs.
Late last week, it came to light that the administration was withholding Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funds from schools based on an amendment prohibiting ESEA funds from helping provide any person with a dangerous weapon or to provide “training in the use of a dangerous weapon.”
In 2022, after the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings, Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which included an amendment to the ESEA of 1965. In late June 2022, the Department of Education made clear that archery and hunter safety programs precluded schools from receiving ESEA funding.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), alongside state and national partners, are drafting a letter to the Department of Education urging re-interpretation and the issuance of corrected guidance to schools nationwide.
MUCC Chief Executive Officer Amy Trotter said withholding this funding damages the kids who need it most.
“These programs teach life-long skills and are critical to engaging youth in our outdoor heritage, and tens of thousands of kids benefit from them, grow through them and take away confidence and personal responsibility,” Trotter said. “We should be encouraging diversity in school programs, especially those that encourage safe handling of firearms, archery and conservation principles.”
The National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) stands to be dismantled if this interpretation stands. According to its website, “NASP is an activity that doesn’t discriminate based on popularity, athletic skill, gender, size, or academic ability.” The program is designed for fourth through twelfth-grade students and teaches skills that extend beyond the classroom.
In a letter to Department of Education Secretary Cardona, Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), key negotiators of the BSCA, urged a reinterpretation of the guidance, citing congressional intent.
In the letter, the senators highlight the social values of these programs, the inclusivity, mental health benefits and the precipitous drop in hunting accidents since hunter’s safety programs began more than 50 years ago.
“Archery and hunter safety education programs are important to millions of students and families across the country. The results speak for themselves,” said the letter. “Neither the BSCA’s text nor the intent of the law would limit educational programming for millions of students, especially not programming that would otherwise support and fortify student mental health and safety.”
The solution to this issue is re-issuing guidance from the Department of Education. This does not need to go through a formal rulemaking process or legislation. The goal is to solve this with the clarification of congressional intent from Senators Cornyn and Tillis and grasstops involvement from organizations like MUCC and our national partners.