The bipartisan bill, titled the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act, is a response to an interpretation of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that could deprive public schools of federal funds if they hosted state-sanctioned hunter education courses or included programs like National Archery in the Schools into their physical education curricula.
Concerned with the prospect of losing federal funding, which represents a large share of revenue for many public schools, boards and administrators turned away outdoor-skills programs that could be interpreted as violating federal law that withholds funds for schools engaged in “the provision to any person of a dangerous weapon… or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.”
That interpretation meant that classes that teach the responsible use of guns, knives, and archery equipment could be used to deprive schools of critical federal funds, which wasn’t the intention of the original bill, says Alex Baer, executive director of the International Hunter Education Association.
“It sure seems far-fetched to me to think that an act written around education, health, and safety in its title is designed to remove safety programs,” says Baer. “I frankly doubt that was the intent, but this bill confirms the original intent.”
Montana Senator Jon Tester originated the bill that Biden signed today. The bill, which had bipartisan sponsors and support, requires the federal Department of Education to restore school districts’ ability to use federal resources for school archery, gun safety, and hunter education programs.
“Montanans sent me to the Senate to protect our rural way of life, and that’s exactly why I stood up to the Biden Administration’s decision to block the use of federal dollars for hunter safety classes,” said Tester, who is facing re-election in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.
The Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act had wide support from the conservation community, with most national organizations coming to its defense and urging its passage and Biden’s signature.
“Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation supports the Defending Hunters Education Act. As an organization that has invested nearly $2 million in school archery and hunters education programs, we recognize the role these programs play in developing the next generation of safe and effective conservationists,” said the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “Schools that deliver these programs should not be penalized by the Department of Education because of a misinterpretation of Congressional intent. We support Senator Tester’s legislation to correct this and keep school archery and hunting programs strong.”