Why it matters: Hunter education, archery in schools, wilderness courses, and other outdoor focused school activities provide unmatched enrichment opportunities for students from all walks of life. These programs provide critical life skills for students and, according to teachers engaged with these programs, student participation has been correlated with improvements in academic performance, behavior, and school attendance. Unfortunately, some of these programs are at risk of losing important federal funding.
- As part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) that was signed into law last year, Congress amended a comprehensive school funding program known as the Elementary and Secondary Schools Education Act (ESEA), which is utilized by some state level Departments of Education to fund archery in schools, wilderness courses, archery programs, among others.
- When Congress made the modifications to the ESEA through the BSCA, the legislative branch included language to prohibit the use of ESEA funds for the training of personnel in the use of a “dangerous weapon”. The intent of Congress in making this amendment to ESEA was to prohibit ESEA funds from being used for training school resource officers and other security personnel.
- Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education is taking the definition of “dangerous weapon” at face value rather than following the legislative intent of Congress, which is now threatening the future of school activities such as archery, hunter education, among many others.
In June 2022, Congress passed, and President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. When the BSCA passed, an overarching school funding program known as the Elementary and Second Schools Education Act was altered to prohibit ESEA funds from being used for training school security personnel in the use a “dangerous weapon”, which is now undermining many important school programs.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is actively working to reverse the direction of the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that these programs remain intact for millions of students across the country. CSF is working with Leaders and Members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus to make it clear that the intent of Congress was not to undermine these longstanding enrichment programs. While we are hopeful the Department of Education will revisit the intent of Congress in the BSCA and revise its interpretation to protect the programs at-risk, CSF has also endorsed a legislative fix (H.R. 5110) to address this issue. Led by Rep. Mark Green (TN) and former CSC Leader Rep. Richard Hudson (NC) H.R. 5110 will make it clear that the BSCA was not intended to prohibit ESEA funds for the activities in question.
The BSCA amended the ESEA to prohibit funds from being used for the purposes of training personnel in the use of a “dangerous weapon”, which is defined in federal statute as “a weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, animate or inanimate, that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2½ inches in length”. Importantly, the legislative intent of Congress was not to restrict ESEA funds for the aforementioned activities.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education is interpreting the inclusion of “dangerous weapon” at face value by using the strict definition of “dangerous weapon” rather than following the legislative intent of Congress, which is leading to the cancellation of school programs such as hunter education, archery, wilderness courses, school sponsored shooting teams, among many other critically important activities for America’s youth.
Again, CSF is hopeful that the Department of Education will follow the legislative intent of Congress to maintain the vitality of these programs. CSF will continue to work to address this issue.