Hunter Safety Classes and Federal Funding in Montana Schools
Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The newly enacted Bipartisan Safer Communities Act includes a section called ‘the Stronger Connections Grant’ that could mean loss of federal funding for public schools that offer programs such as hunter safety and archery, which would affect a majority of Montana’s public schools.
KGVO News reached out to Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen for her reaction to the ‘Stronger Connections Grant’, and in a press release stated ‘This Federal law, PL 117-159, which amended 20 U.S.C. § 7906 prohibits the use of many Federal education funds ‘for the provision to any person of a dangerous weapon, as defined in section 930(g)(2) of title 18, or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.’ Under that Federal law, a ‘dangerous weapon’ includes things ‘used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury’. The United States Department of Education guidance mirrors the Federal statute.’
Teaching Hunter Safety Could Lead to Loss of Federal School Funding
Arntzen told KGVO that hunter safety has been a part of the Montana public school system for generations.
“Hunting and fishing and gathering of course is part of a longtime heritage in our state,” began Arntzen. “So hunter safety, my goodness, it does have the school portion in our public school systems during off hours. We do have archery that does come into our public schools during the day time, as well.”
Arntzen said the funds from the grant have already been distributed to Montana’s public schools.
Next School Year's Funds have Already Been Distributed
“Montana, through my office, received $4.8 million of these dollars that were annotated as of June 22 of last year, and I've already dispersed them to 25 school districts,” she said. “This is a Stronger Connections grant that is about school safety but in a whole-child approach so that it affects all children in learning. It's not just about brick and mortar. This is about having them being engaged in their schools.”
Arntzen said the federal government is directly interfering in what she termed ‘states’ rights’.
“So we’re very challenged by what is occurring at that federal level and as a state elected official, we want to make sure that the federal government is accommodated,” she said. “On the other hand, states' rights are coming into view at this point and we want to make sure that our Montana heritage is protected.”
After KGVO's call, Arntzen Reached out to Montana's Congressional Delegation
Arntzen said she has reached out to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as well as our entire Congressional delegation about the possible loss of funding for Montana’s public schools through the ‘Stronger Connections Grant’.
“This is a big discussion,” she said. “We're working with our fish and wildlife partners right now to see exactly what this means and we’re hoping that again, states rights and our Montana heritage can be protected. We have already reached out to our congressional delegation to try to recognize what impact there might be, and want to make sure that Montana's voice is heard all the way to the halls of D.C.”
Below, read Arntzen’s press release that was published on Tuesday afternoon immediately after her conversation with KGVO.
‘August 1, 2023
“Montana was awarded $4,800,000 through the Federal 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) which included the Stronger Connections grant. This was a one-time-only grant through a competitive application process that was offered to our over 400 public school districts. Federal and state qualifications were met in spring of 2023 and funding awards were given to 25 school districts in July 2023.
This Federal law, PL 117-159, which amended 20 U.S.C. § 7906 prohibits the use of many Federal education funds ‘for the provision to any person of a dangerous weapon, as defined in section 930(g)(2) of title 18, or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.’ Under that Federal law, a ‘dangerous weapon’ includes things ‘used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury’. The United States Department of Education guidance mirrors the Federal statute.
There is error or confusion in the narrow interpretation of this Federal statute by the United States Department of Education. While I applaud the congressional purpose to protect our students and schools from threats of violence, I disagree with the constraint on the delivery of educational opportunities that Montanans value.
It is the application of the federal guidance that I question:
1-Can schools provide hunter’s safety classes?
2-Can archery and related indigenous skills be taught?
3-Can teachers be trained to disarm active shooters?
4-Does the Federal law impact the Montana School Marshal program? 20-7-1335, MCA
5-Does this prohibit the preparation of school resource officers?
I strongly urge the United States Department of Education to recognize Montana's values, our rural culture, and our indigenous history. This includes the rights of Montana families and students to learn conservation skills such as hunting and archery. Our state has a rich heritage, and our tribal nations are a critical part of that. Limiting what is taught in the classroom, in a way that seeks to erase our Montana history and culture, is just wrong. It is an attack on all Montanans.”