EXCLUSIVE: The Biden administration is blocking key federal funding earmarked under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 for schools with hunting and archery programs.
According to federal guidance circulated among hunting education groups and shared with Fox News Digital, the Department of Education determined that, under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) passed last year, school hunting and archery classes are precluded from receiving federal funding. The interpretation could impact millions of American children enrolled in such programs.
"It's a negative for children. As a former educator of 30-plus years, I was always trying to find a way to engage students," Tommy Floyd, the president of the National Archery in the Schools Program, told Fox News Digital in an interview. "In many communities, it's a shooting sport, and the skills from shooting sports, that help young people grow to be responsible adults. They also benefit from relationships with role models."
"You've got every fish and wildlife agency out there working so hard to utilize every scrap of funding, not only for the safety and hunter education, but for the general understanding of why stewardship is so important when it comes to natural resources," he continued. "Any guidance where it's even considered a ‘maybe’ or a prohibition for shooting sports is a huge negative."
According to Floyd, his organization boasts 1.3 million students from nearly 9,000 schools across 49 states who are enrolled in archery courses. Some of those schools have already canceled plans to include archery or hunting education courses in their curriculum due to the Education Department guidance.
In June 2022, the BSCA was passed with large majorities in the House and Senate before President Biden signed it into law. The push to pass the bill — which broadly seeks to promote "safer, more inclusive and positive" school environments, according to the Education Department — came after mass shootings at a grocery market in Buffalo, New York, and a school in Uvalde, Texas.
The legislation included an amendment to an ESEA subsection listing prohibited uses for federal school funding. That amendment prohibits ESEA funds from helping provide any person with a dangerous weapon or to provide "training in the use of a dangerous weapon."
However, in a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona earlier this month, Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., expressed concern that the agency is misinterpreting the provision which they said was included in the BSCA last year to withhold education funds for programs training school resource officers, not for hunting and archery classes. School resource officer training was funded under a separate provision.
"We were alarmed to learn recently that the Department of Education has misinterpreted the BCSA to require the defending of certain longstanding educational and enrichment programs — specifically, archery and hunter education classes — for thousands of children, who rely on these programs to develop life skills, learn firearm safety and build self-esteem," Cornyn and Tillis wrote to Cardona.
"The Department mistakenly believes that the BSCA precludes funding these enrichment programs," they continued. "Such an interpretation contradicts congressional intent and the text of the BSCA."
The GOP lawmakers noted in the letter, which was shared with Fox News Digital, that they have heard complaints from schools with funding for shooting sport courses withheld. They added that hunting and archery programs fall "well within" the scope of activities to support safe and healthy students which the ESEA explicitly funds.
Overall, the ESEA is the primary source of federal aid for elementary and secondary education across the country, according to the Congressional Research Service. The BSCA earmarked an additional $1 billion for educational activities under the ESEA.
"It is ironic that the U.S. Department of Education is actively denying young Americans the chance to educate themselves on basic firearm and hunting safety so that they can go afield knowing how to keep themselves, their friends, and family safe," Ben Cassidy, executive vice president for international government and public affairs at Safari Club International (SCI), told Fox News Digital.
"At best, the department’s policy appears to be singularly geared to ensure hunters are less safe when handling firearms or bows and, at worst, are leveling a direct attack on hunters’ ability to pass down hunting to the newest generations," he continued. "SCI and our membership will be eagerly awaiting the Education Department’s response to the letter from Senators Cornyn and Tillis, and we won’t hesitate to take further action to protect hunters’ rights."
In addition, the National Shooting Sports Foundation blasted the Education Department's interpretation of the BSCA, saying it was part of the administration's attacks on the Second Amendment.
The group said that, while it took a neutral stance on the BSCA, it has become "increasingly concerned" by the Biden administration’s implementation of the law.
"The Department of Education and Secretary Cardona are blatantly misconstruing the law to withhold funding from schools that choose to teach beneficial courses like hunter safety and archery," Lawrence Keane, the NSSF's senior vice president, told Fox News Digital.
"Congress must hold Secretary Cardona and the department accountable for violating the letter and spirit of the law to unilaterally deny America’s students access to these valuable programs as part of the Administration’s continued attacks on the Second Amendment," Keane added.
"Stopping hunter education courses that teach safe and responsible firearm handling makes our communities less, not more, safe and diminishes our ability to pass our nation’s cherished hunting and recreational shooting sports traditions on to the next generation," he said.
Both the SCI and NSSF, meanwhile, have been outspoken in their opposition to recent Biden administration actions targeting hunting more broadly.
Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unveiled new prohibitions on the type of equipment hunters are allowed to use on federal refuges. Keane said at the time that the rules were the latest example of the agency "creating rules that punish hunters," and Cassidy added it would prevent Americans from hunting on public lands.
The Education Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.