Daily Inter Lake: Biden signs law allowing school-based hunter education

by Kate Heston

Kalispell schools can once again offer archery classes after President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that ensures federal funds can be spent on school hunter education classes.

The Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act, which received the president’s signature Oct. 6, amended a prior decision by the Department of Education that prevented shooting classes in schools.

The policy shift came after Montana’s congressional delegation pushed the White House to reverse course. Both U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines had sponsored legislation that sought to bring back funding for school-based hunter education.

The act Biden signed into law originated in the House and was passed in the Senate by unanimous consent in late September.

Following the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, the Department of Education released an official guide saying no money could go toward programs that provide “to any person a dangerous weapon or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.” For the Department of Education, they considered hunting, archery and shooting sports ineligible for federal funding because of that provision.

The new law amends the act to clarify that grants from the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act can be spent on hunting and archery programs.

“By misinterpreting which activities are now supported by the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965], the Department of Education is limiting learning opportunities critical to student safety,” Tester wrote in the letter seeking the rule change.

Hunting and archery are traditions close to the heart of Northwest Montana, according to Kalispell superintendent Randy Cine.

“This is a positive, obviously, because Montana of course has a rich history of providing shooting sports to schools,” Cline said.

Kalispell School District offers archery classes within their physical education department, an activity they had to stop at the beginning of this year due to the federal government’s prior decision.

While a law like this may make sense in a more urban place, Cline said, it doesn’t fit rural Montana and what “we’re willing to offer here to our students.”

Ron Goodman, superintendent of Libby School District, also applauded the policy change.

“Archery, that’s a big deal,” Goodman said. “There are a lot of things kids need to be exposed to. Archery is a great sport. When you think of sports you think football, basketball, baseball, but archery you can do your whole life.”

Archery has been taught in the Libby School District since at least 1975. Currently, the school receives Matthews Solo Cam bows as part of a Matthew’s school program.

Not only do the students love the archery units, they also help teach an understanding of safety, according to Goodman.

At a Whitefish School Board meeting on Oct. 10, Trustee Todd Lengacher said that the group spoke about bringing archery classes to the district.

Columbia Falls superintendent Cory Dziowgo said that while the district does not currently offer any shooting classes, the legislation gives the district one less thing to worry about if they decide to begin shooting classes.

While archery programs saw a shut down across the state, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks were still able to host hunter education classes in school buildings after hours, according to Dillon Tabish, the state wildlife agency’s Region 1 information and education program manager.

“We’re very grateful that a bipartisan solution was able to fix this issue, or what some were calling a non-issue,” Tabish said. “[Archery programs in schools are] great for students and so is hunter education.”

While many schools in the valley do not utilize federal funds directly for their archery programs, the legislation now provides assurance that they are able to.

The legislation was introduced in the Senate on Sep. 6 before sharing the bill with the House Education and Workforce committee, where the text was adopted by Rep. Mark Green, a Republican from Tennessee, who amended his own bill to bring through the House in congruence with Tester’s legislation.

“As a third-generation Montanan, I had the opportunity to learn about the importance of responsible gun ownership and hunting from these longstanding hunter education courses – and it’s critical that our kids and grandkids are afforded that same opportunity,” Tester said in a press release.

“I’m glad to see President Biden come to his senses and reverse this attack on our Montana way of life,” Daines said in his own press release.