Lawmakers have expressed their concerns over the Biden administration's recent decision to strip federal funding from school hunting and archery education programs across the country.
In two letters sent to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and to the Senate Appropriations Committee, a coalition of bipartisan senators demanded that the Department of Education "interpret the language as Congress intended and no longer ask educational entities to seek other funding sources for educational enrichment programs" in order to restore these programs. The first letter was signed by nine Republicans and nine Democrats, while the second was signed by six Republicans and 11 Democrats.
The letters, mainly spearheaded by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, cite important roles that "enrichment programs," such as hunter safety courses and archery, play in teaching safety, wildlife management, landowner relations, and personal responsibility to students.
The Department of Education sparked national criticism after they issued federal guidance in July stating that hunting and archery programs in schools cannot receive federal funding. The guidance misinterpreted legislation, specifically the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), which, according to Cornyn, was meant to prohibit ESEA funding for school resource officer training.
Advocates claim that the guidance has since caused many schools that offer these courses to either completely remove them or find alternate funding sources.
Tillis and Sinema, both Democrats, were the sponsors of the BSCA that was approved in June 2022 following mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and a school in Uvalde, Texas.
In their joint letter to the Appropriations Committee, Cornyn and the other legislators acknowledged that the guidance concerning "dangerous weapons" has caused confusion, as it may "be used to prohibit schools from providing kitchen knives that are larger than 2 ½ inches long in culinary classes."
Therefore, the senators are asking the Committee to include language in the upcoming FY24 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill to officially reject the Department of Education's interpretation of the BSCA.
The Department of Education has yet to comment on the letters and has not clarified its stance on the issue. For now, senators from both sides of the aisle are hopeful that their efforts can restore these useful enrichment programs in schools.