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AP analysis: NRA contributes to schools; few willing to decline the money

In this March 2, 2018 photo, a group of JROTC shooters compete in the prone position during the 2018 New Mexico Junior Olympic Qualifier for sport and precision air rifles at Cibola High School in Albuquerque, N.M., for the chance to compete at the National Junior Olympic Championships in Ohio in June. The National Rifle Association has given more than $7 million in grants to hundreds of U.S. schools in recent years, typically used for JROTC programs, including $126,000 given to Albuquerque schools. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal via AP)

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Major corporations were cutting ties with the National Rifle Association after the massacre at a Florida high school, but what about schools that had received grants from the gun organization? It was a natural follow to the Associated Press’ exclusive story that the alleged shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had belonged to a school JROTC program that received NRA grants.

Data journalist Meghan Hoyer dug through tax records to identify the schools that had received more than $7 million in NRA grants. Education beat team member Collin Binkley began calling recipients around the country to see if they would forgo the money. Few said they would.

“With a great data team and the resources to back us up, we can tell stories that others can’t.”

Collin Binkley, AP education reporter

“Whatever I think of the NRA,they’re providing legitimate educational services,” said Billy Townsend,a school board member in Florida’s Polk County district,whose JROTC programs received $33,0, primarily to buy air rifles. “If the NRA wanted to provide air rifles for our ROTC folks in the future, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

Hoyer distributed the data on an embargoed basis to AP members,enabling them to provide local context at the same time the AP reported its findings that about 500 schools had received $7.3 million from the NRA in recent years for JROTC,rifle teams and other programs.

The Sacramento Bee headlined its local version of the story: “This Sacramento-area school district gets more NRA money than any other in the U.S.”

It was referring to the Roseville Joint Union High School District. Ron Severson,superintendent of the district told Binkley: “I appreciated the way you handled this story. It was factual, balanced and thoughtful.”

Education Week tweeted the AP story and links to the database that Hoyer compiled:

Binkley wrote to Carole Feldman, the editor on the story: “This story really helps illustrate the power of the AP to me. As a beat reporter I never could’ve done this story on my own,but with a great data team and the resources to back us up, we can tell stories that others can’t.”

For their work breaking news on a story that everyone is reporting and providing data that allowed AP members to localize the story, Binkley and Hoyer will receive this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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