Ricketts, Fischer move to prevent defunding of school archery, hunting programs

By: - September 7, 2023 4:44 pm

Republican lawmakers worry that new federal funding rules may imperil school-based archery and hunter safety programs. (Courtesy of Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Federal funding for school hunting and archery programs will be here to stay if dozens of U.S. senators and representatives have anything to say.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. (Courtesy of the Office of Sen. John Barrasso)

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the third-ranking Senate Republican, on Thursday introduced the Allowing for Recreational Resources for Outdoor Wellness Act, or ARROW Act. The legislation would clarify congressional intent behind existing law and stop the Biden administration from blocking federal funding for school hunting and archery programs.

Twenty-four Republicans, including Nebraska’s. Sens. Pete Ricketts and Deb Fischer, are cosponsoring Barrasso’s legislation.

“Nebraskans have a deep appreciation for the great outdoors of our state, and we should be fostering that in the next generation however we can, including hunting and archery,” Ricketts said in a statement.

‘Traditions of America and the West’

The two-page ARROW Act would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to clarify that while funds may not be used to purchase dangerous weapons for school staff or for staff training of dangerous weapons, that exception would not apply to “sports clubs, teams, training or related activities provided for students.”

U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

“These valuable programs decrease firearm-related injuries and accidents,” Barrasso said in a statement. “They also connect our students to the long-standing heritage and traditions of America and the West.”

The provision regarding dangerous weapons took effect in 2022 through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a bipartisan effort to curb gun violence following mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas.

However, the U.S. Department of Education has interpreted the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act amendments to the ESEA as blocking funding for local hunting and archery programs. The department has recently encouraged education agencies to seek alternative sources of funding.

Bipartisan pushback

While there is little evidence any programs have yet been affected, Republican and Democratic members of Congress alike have pushed back.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, at left, visits Omaha Public School’s Bryan High. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

In an Aug. 4 letter, 66 House Republicans, including Nebraska’s U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, pressed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to restore funding for archery and hunting programs. Nineteen Republican senators, including Fischer, followed up one week later demanding President Joe Biden and his administration withdraw the guidance.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also expressed concern to Cardona in an Aug. 2 letter.

A bipartisan group of 19 U.S. senators, led by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., urged U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona this week to follow intent already in place with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and restore funding.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

The senators said the legislation included resources so governments could respond to communities in crisis, provide mental health services and build proactive safety responses to avoid future tragedies while protecting and preserving Second Amendment rights.”

“Unfortunately, and contrary to Congressional intent, the Department of Education has misinterpreted the language to exclude certain educational activities from receiving federal resources,” Manchin and his group wrote.

‘Don’t understand our way of life’

Barrasso and his team of cosponsors said more than 500,000 students participate and are certified through hunter education courses annually, decreasing hunting accidents by more than half, according to International Hunter Education Association estimates. 

The National Archery in Schools Program states that 1.3 million students participate in archery programs every year and that nearly 40% of those students have reported their involvement was a motivational factor in the classroom.

Ricketts added Thursday that the U.S. Department of Education rule indicates Washington bureaucrats “don’t understand our way of life.”


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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, double-majoring in journalism and political science. He has interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C., and has reported for the Nebraska News Service and The Daily Nebraskan.