September 28, 2023
Federal lawmakers voted almost unanimously this week in support of restoring federal funding to hunting, shooting and archery programs in schools that had been ended by the Biden administration.
Previously, lawmakers had passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), which amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, and prohibited funds under the law’s jurisdiction "for the provision to any person of a dangerous weapon or training in the use of a dangerous weapon."
But Rep. Mark Green's (R-Tenn.) bipartisan-supported Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act, also known as House Bill 5110, sought to “amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) to clarify that the prohibition on the use of Federal education funds for certain weapons does not apply to the use of such weapons for training in archery, hunting or other shooting sports.”
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 424-1 to overwhelming approve Green's bill on Tuesday, Sept. 26. And on Wednesday, Sept. 27, the U.S. Senate took its turn with a unanimous vote to pass companion bipartisan legislation from Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), which also sought to overturn the recent effort by the Biden administration to cut federal educational funding for schools that have programs associated with hunting, shooting and archery.
The result of this week’s Capitol Hill votes seeks to put an end to a controversial move earlier this year in which the U.S. Department of Education took away funding for schools with hunter-education programs, a trap or skeet team, or even a National Archery in the Schools Program archery tournament.
"School hunting and archery programs are an important part of many Ohioans’ education and teach students how to be responsible hunters, gun owners, and archers," said Brown in a news release after the Senate vote. "These are exactly the types of programs we should be supporting – and the administration should never have cut off this funding. This bipartisan bill fixes that."
What's all the bipartisan fuss about? Specifically, the House and Senate votes came after the Biden administration's apparent quiet move to block federal funding for schools with hunting- and archery-education programs, money that had been earmarked under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965.
The funding cut from the U.S. Department of Education was said to be due to its interpretation of gun-control measures in last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), which was signed into law by President Biden on June 25, 2022. For the record, the U.S. Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent in December 2021 and the U.S. House of Representatives passed it by a 230-190 vote in May 2022.
The BSCA, among other things, implemented changes in the nation's mental health care system, school-safety programs and gun-control measures, including extended background checks for firearms purchasers under the age of 21.
As the run-up to the 2024 presidential election continues, the White House indicated that Biden plans to sign the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act into law. Wary critics applauded the announcement.
"America's outdoor community is rejoicing after a massive bipartisan group of U.S. House and Senate members stood up for outdoor education by passing the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act," said Todd Adkins, vice president of government affairs at the Sportsmen's Alliance, in a statement to Game & Fish. "We filed suit because we believe the administration's decision to pull funding was flat wrong, so we remain hopeful the President will sign this bill into law with no hesitation, thereby setting things right."
"This is a tremendous victory for true and proven firearm safety, as well as a reminder of how Congress can unite to protect the American public from special-interest driven agendas," National Shooting Sports Foundation Senior Vice President and General Counsel Larry Keane said in a news release.
“This should have never been an issue,” Keane added. “Congress never wrote into the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that hunter education and archery programs were ineligible for funding. That was a unilateral decision to appease gun control and anti-hunting special interests. It was an unforced error that the Biden administration refused to acknowledge. Congress, as the representatives of the people, has spoken and spoken loudly and clearly.”
“This is a win for students across the country, sportsmen and women, and CSF and our efforts to make sure that future generations have opportunities to participate in our time-honored traditions of hunting, fishing, trapping and recreational shooting,” Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation Director of Federal Relations Taylor Schmitz said.
This summer, the White House’s move to cut outdoors education funding drew blunt criticism from lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who rebuked the administration for its actions. “Any defunding of schools who offer critical programs like archery and hunting clubs would be a gross misinterpretation of the legislation and yet another example of this Administration trying to advance their radical agenda with blatant disregard for the law,” Sen. Manchin said in a news release.
Others joined in with strong criticism of their own, including Sportsmen’s Alliance, which announced in early August that along with Safari Club International, it was suing the U.S. Department of Education to get the federal funding cuts restored. The National Shooting Sports Foundation minced no words either, with strongly worded editorials decrying the administration’s move, saying it was nothing more than an attack on both the Second Amendment and the nation’s outdoors heritage.
Criticism also came from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The angst was understandable since overlooked in the Dept. of Education’s move was key funding to be stripped away from schools that have allowed programs like the National Archery in the Schools Program into their hallways, classrooms and gymnasiums.
Such funding cuts were real head-scratchers to many inside and outside the Beltway since high-participant programs could be lost, with NASP itself being a program almost universally hailed since its inception in 2002. NASP describes itself as an “in-school program aimed at improving educational performance among students in grades 4–12. Students learn focus, self control, discipline, patience and the life lessons required to be successful in the classroom and in life.”
The numbers confirm those key ideas, with NASP saying that 66 percent of its participating students are first-time archers with the program reaching 1.3 million students in 8,967 schools annually. With more than 104,650 educators trained in archery since the organization's beginning, the NASP program is comprised of 50-50 male/female participation—58 percent of the participants say they are more connected with their respective schools and 40 percent say they are more engaged in the classroom.
In 2022-23, there were 1,638 NASP tournaments, up 20 percent from the previous year. In 2019, one tournament alone—the NASP Eastern National Tournament—had 14,946 archers participating. And over the years, NASP has used its archery emphasis to award more than $4 million in scholarships to more than 2,000 students.
Students who participate in NASP activities are said to be inspired to explore the outdoors world even more, with 91 percent of the participants pursuing other outdoor activities after their involvement with the program. And many of those go on to dive deeper into the world of archery in bowhunting and even Olympic-level competition. Archery participation numbers across the U.S. grew from 7 million to 23 million since the group started 21 years ago.
On the firearms side of the story, the rhetoric has been heated from organizations like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which was frank in its description of the fund-axing effort as Keane opined in an editorial: “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,” Keane wrote. “There was no fanfare behind the decision. No announcement from The White House Rose Garden or major presidential speech. Instead, [Secretary of Education Miguel] Cardona simply confirmed the wrong-headed decision when they could no longer ignore requests for comments.”
Keane noted that the sudden and quiet prohibition earlier this summer applied to all ESEA funds and went into effect immediately on June 25, 2022, applying to all existing and future awards under all ESEA programs. “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,” he continued. “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.”
And perhaps the biggest message of all are the two scathing votes this week by the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. In fact, only one lawmaker—Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas)—voted against the legislation in either chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building.