U.S. Department of Education Grants


About Grants at the U.S. Department of Education

This explanation briefly describes the way the Department’s grant programs are organized and ruled.

What is a discretionary grant?

A discretionary grant is an award made by the Department for which the Department has discretion, or choice, in which applicants get funded. Virtually all of the Department’s discretionary grants are made based on a competitive review process. The Department reviews applications based on the legislative and regulatory requirements, and on the application requirements and criteria established for a discretionary grant program. This review process gives the Department discretion to determine which applications best address the program requirements and are, therefore, most worthy of receiving funding. Successful applicants become the Department’s grantees


How do I determine if we are eligible to receive a discretionary grant?

The first thing to determine before applying for a grant is whether you, or your organization, are eligible for the program. Eligibility requirements are generally established by the legislation that authorizes the program and can be affected by a Federal Register notice or regulations.   Eligibility requirements vary from program to program. Eligibility might be limited to a specific type of organization (such as state education agencies), organizations that serve a particular target population (such as disadvantaged students or Native American students), organizations that meet some other criteria, or individuals with certain qualifications. Some programs require an individual or organization that wishes to apply for funding to first apply to the Department to be certified as eligible for that program; however, most programs do not have this requirement. 


 What are Funding priorities?

Funding priorities: Priorities focus a competition on areas of current concern or emphasis by the secretary of education. Priorities take the form of specific kinds of activities that applicants are asked to include in an application or certain conditions that must exist for applicants to be eligible. There are Absolute Priorities, which the applicant must address in order to be considered for funding; Competitive Priorities, which the applicant has the option of choosing whether or not to address and for which they may receive additional points or preference; and Invitational Priorities, which the applicant is encouraged but not required to address. Applications addressing invitational priorities receive no competitive or absolute preference over applications that do not meet the priority.

 Funding priorities?

For some programs, the Department publishes funding priorities in a Federal Register notice in order to focus a competition on the activities and objectives for which the secretary of education is particularly interested in receiving applications. The Department uses three kinds of funding priorities in its programs: absolute, competitive, and invitational. 

If the Department publishes an “absolute priority” for a program, it will consider for funding only those applications that address that priority. For example, a published absolute priority to fund only projects that increase the amount of time students are engaged in the study of mathematics and science would mean that only those applications that are designed to achieve this result can be considered for funding.  

If the Department publishes one or more “competitive priorities” for a program, applicants successfully addressing those priorities may receive additional points or preference during the competitive review process. 

If the Department publishes “invitational priorities,” it encourages applicants to address certain issues in their project design. However, an application that meets an invitational priority receives no competitive or absolute preference over applications that do not meet the priority.

Another type of priority supports novice applicants. In order to broaden and diversify the pool of applicants that apply for Department grants and to provide greater opportunities for inexperienced applicants to receive funding, the Department may give special consideration to novice applicants in program competitions. Under the regulation found in 34 CFR 75.225 (d), programs may either establish a separate competition for novice applicants or include novice applicants in the general program competitions and give them competitive preference by assigning bonus points. Programs that use the novice procedures in their competition will notify the public in the application notice, published in the Federal Register.

 How are the Department’s programs organized?

There are eight principal offices in the Department that are responsible for the administration of discretionary grant programs. Each office is responsible for overseeing a portion of the programs established by Congress and administered by the Department. The Department’s organizational chart is available at

The following principal offices are responsible for making discretionary grants: 

Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) programs make strategic investments in innovative educational practices. OII grants support and test innovations throughout the elementary and secondary education system, in areas such as alternate routes to teaching certification, dropout prevention, and arts in education. OII programs also encourage and support the establishment of charter schools, through planning and start-up funding and through innovative approaches to providing credit for charter school facilities.

Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) programs are designed to increase access to quality postsecondary education. Examples of OPE grants include support to improve postsecondary educational facilities and programs, and support for programs that recruit and prepare disadvantaged students for the successful completion of postsecondary education. Other OPE programs promote the domestic study of foreign languages and international affairs and support international education research and exchange activities.

Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) programs are designed to assist state and local education agencies to improve the achievement of elementary and secondary school students and to assure equal access to services leading to such improvement for all children, particularly children who are economically or educationally disadvantaged.   Examples of OESE grants include financial assistance to support comprehensive education reform efforts, grants for projects that improve the quality of teaching in elementary and secondary schools, and grants to support the use of proven methods of early reading instruction in classrooms and early childhood centers. 

Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS) programs provide financial assistance for drug and violence prevention activities, and projects that promote the health and well being of students in elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education. OSDFS also administers the Department’s programs relating to citizenship and civics education. 

Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the Department’s primary research office, supports research that contributes to improved academic achievement for all students, and particularly for those whose education prospects are hindered by inadequate education services and conditions associated with poverty, limited English proficiency, disability, and family circumstance. IES conducts and supports scientifically valid research activities, including basic research and applied research, statistics activities, scientifically valid education evaluation, development, and dissemination. IES’s four operational divisions are the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the National Center for Special Education Research. 

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) administers grants in three main areas: special education, vocational rehabilitation, and research. Special education programs are designed to meet the needs and develop the full potential of children with disabilities through the provision of special education and early intervention programs and services. Vocational rehabilitation grants reduce dependency and enhance the productive capabilities of persons with disabilities through the provision of independent living and vocational rehabilitation services. OSERS’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research conducts and supports rehabilitative and special education research and demonstration activities in order to increase knowledge about, foster innovation in, and improve the delivery of services for persons with disabilities. 

Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students (OELA) administers programs designed to provide national leadership to help ensure that English language learners and immigrant students attain English proficiency and achieve academically. These programs assist in building the nation’s capacity in critical foreign languages. OELA’s grant programs include Native American and Alaska Native Children in Schools; Foreign Language Assistance; and National Professional Development.

Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) administers programs that are related to adult education and literacy, career and technical education, and community colleges. Examples of OVAE programs include grants designed to promote identification and dissemination of effective practice in raising student achievement in high schools, community colleges and adult education programs, and grants to support targeted research investments in adult literacy and career and technical education. 

 What are grant regulations?

The Department generally uses two types of regulations to award and administer grants: program and administrative regulations. Program regulations apply to all applicants and/or grantees under a particular program. They implement legislation passed by Congress to authorize a specific grant program, and usually include applicant and participant eligibility criteria and specify the types of activities funded. Program regulations or other notices may include criteria or competitive priorities under which applications will be selected for funding. Administrative regulations, generally set out by type of recipient organization (such as government or nonprofit), apply to all grantees of that type, regardless of the program. These regulations implement requirements contained in OMB circulars, presidential executive orders, and legislation that affect all applicants for, or recipients of, federal grants. The Department also has administrative regulations that apply to its discretionary grant programs. The administrative regulations implementing OMB circulars, the Department’s specific administrative requirements, and the other governmentwide common requirements comprise what is known as EDGAR (Education Department General Administrative Regulations).  

EDGAR is available at New and amended program and administrative regulations issued by the Department and published throughout the year in the Federal Register are posted at

Where do I find Grants?

The Forecast is the preliminary plan for the discretionary grant competitions for the coming fiscal year. It includes anticipated dates for each forecasted competition. As the Forecast is subject to change during the year, you should check the Web site of the program in which you are interested for the most current information about its competitions.