18 senators, including eight Democrats and one Independent, want funding for hunter safety training in schools to be reinstated.
The bipartisan group sent a letter to the Biden Administration on Tuesday demanding it reverse course on efforts to deny federal dollars to the school programs. The senators argued that the administration is misreading the changes most voted for in last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA).
“Unfortunately, and contrary to Congressional intent, the Department of Education (“the Department”) has misinterpreted the language to exclude certain educational activities from receiving federal resources,” the group said.
The dispute is the latest fallout from the BSCA, which is also at the center of a new fight over who has to obtain a federal license to sell used guns. Unlike the other disagreement over the text of the law, this one is pitting Democrats and Independents against the Biden Administration. The concentrated political pressure could produce a reversal from the Department of Education. If not, canceling the hunting and archery funding could cause political damage to those who backed the bill.
The letter was authored by Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas), who helped negotiate the BSCA last year. Republican Senators Thom Tillis, Shelley Moore Capito, Joni Ernst, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham–who all voted for the bill–signed on to the letter. Democratic Senators Bob Casey, Maggie Hassan, Tim Kaine, Martin Heinrich, Tammy Baldwin, Amy Klobuchar, Mark Kelly, and Joe Manchin also joined. So did Independent Kyrsten Sinema. Republican Roger Wicker put his name on the letter, too, making him the only Senator who didn’t vote for the bill to join.
The issue stems from funding for hunting and archery training programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The Department of Education has interpreted a language change in the BSCA to forbid such programs, potentially impacting hundreds of thousands of American students.
“It’s a negative for children,” Tommy Floyd, president of the National Archery in the Schools Program, told Fox News in July. “As a former educator of 30-plus years, I was always trying to find a way to engage students. In many communities, it’s a shooting sport, and the skills from shooting sports, that help young people grow to be responsible adults.”
The BSCA inserted a paragraph in the ESEA that says funds can not be used “for the provision to any person of a dangerous weapon, as defined in section 930(g)(2) of title 18, or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.” But, the bipartisan group claimed the language was only intended to prevent federal funds from being used to train teachers to carry guns.
“The intent of section 13401 of BSCA was to preclude these funds from being used to purchase dangerous weapons for school staff or to train school staff in the use of dangerous weapons, with the recognition that ESEA funds should support student achievement, educational enrichment programs, and student well-being,” they wrote. “Other federal funds appropriated in the BSCA were intended to support evidence-based school safety and protective measures.”
The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment. However, it released a guidance paper in April that said the language change meant ESEA funds can’t be used “to provide to any person a dangerous weapon or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.”
The senators decried the decision as detrimental to American students.
“We understand the Department has encouraged local and state education agencies to seek alternative sources of funding for archery and hunting educational enrichment programs,” the group said. “This is concerning because of the important role these enrichment programs can play in students’ lives. Archery is an inclusive extracurricular activity that empowers students from all backgrounds to learn a sport and compete. Hunter safety classes and programs play an important role in teaching safety, wildlife management, landowner relations, and personal responsibility to students.”
They warned the decision could lead to unnecessary firearms accidents.
“Over 600,000 students are trained and certified annually, and research indicates due to the increased participation in hunters safety courses, the instance of hunting related injuries have significantly decreased over the last 50 years,” they wrote.
The senators prodded the Department of Education to change its mind on how it has interpreted the law.
“We ask that the Department interpret the language as Congress intended and no longer ask educational entities to seek other funding sources for educational enrichment programs that align with the intent of ESEA- supporting student achievement and student well-being,” they wrote. “It is our hope that the Department will rethink its latest guidance that threatens students’ access to these programs, which support pathways to professional success, community safety, and personal wellbeing.”
A separate bipartisan group sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee asking them to add new language to the upcoming appropriations bill that governs the budgets of the Department of Education and other executive agencies. Senators Capito, Collins, Manchin, and Graham weren’t on the appropriations letter. However, it picked up support from Democratic Senators Martin Heinrich, John Fetterman, and Chris Van Hollen as well as Chris Murphy, who helped craft the BSCA alongside Cornyn.
“As the Senate continues its consideration of the fiscal year (FY) 2024 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, we ask the Committee to include the appropriations bill text detailed below to clarify that school districts may continue to use their Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) funding to provide educational enrichment programs and activities, including hunter, outdoor, archery, and culinary education,” they said. “Thank you for your attention to this critical and bipartisan issue. ”
Between the two letters, the effort garnered support from one Independent, nine Republicans, and a dozen Democrats.