Grant Application Technical Assistance Resources
Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools

Frequently Asked Questions on Discretionary Grants

What is a discretionary grant?
A discretionary grant awards funds on the basis of a competitive process. The Department reviews applications in light of the legislative and regulatory requirements established for a program. This review process gives the Department discretion to determine which applications best address the program requirements and are, therefore, most worthy of funding.

How does the Department set up discretionary grant programs?
Congress establishes discretionary grant programs through authorizing legislation and appropriations legislation. The Department then usually writes program regulations based on the authorizing legislation, which describe how the programs are to be administered. After these program regulations are published in final form and Congress appropriates funds for the program, the Department can elicit applications and award grants.

How do I find out about the Department's discretionary grant programs?
There are different ways to get information about the discretionary grant programs at the Department of Education. The Department maintains a site on the World Wide Web. You can obtain information on discretionary grant funding by Principal Office and by types of programs available by logging on to the Department's Web site at:

To get a general overview of the Department's programs, you can write or phone the Department to get a copy of the Guide to U.S. Department of Education Programs, or you can acquire it through the Department's Web site. The Guide describes the various discretionary grant programs sponsored by the Department and provides a telephone number for each program to call for further information.

The Department publishes an application notice in the Federal Register to inform potential applicants of each new discretionary grant competition. An application notice invites applications for one or more competitions, gives basic program and funding information on each competition, and informs potential applicants when and where they may obtain applications. Program offices publish an application notice for each individual program.

Program Offices also include their proposed program schedules in the Department's Combined Application Notice. The Combined Application Notice is generally published once a year in the Federal Register and is posted on the Department's Web site. It lists most of the discretionary grant competitions planned for each Principal Office for the coming year, and includes anticipated application deadlines and other pertinent information.

How do I learn if I am eligible to receive a discretionary grant?
The first thing to consider before applying for a grant is to determine whether your organization is eligible under the program. If you are not sure about the grant programs under which you would be eligible, start with the Guide, discussed above. The Guide has an index to help you identify the grant program in which you might be interested. The Guide also gives the CFDA number for each grant program, a system of numbering based on the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. To receive the appropriate information, it is essential that you use this number when contacting the Department about the specific grant program of interest to you.

Once you know the number and title of the grant program under which you want to apply, you may wish to review the program regulations provided in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is updated once a year only and, therefore, might not include recent changes to program regulations. You should contact the program office listed in the Guide to verify the most recent version of the program regulations.

The application package lists the eligibility requirements, generally drawn from the legislation establishing the program. Eligibility might be limited to a particular type of organization (e.g., state education agencies), organizations that serve only a particular group (e.g., disadvantaged students), or organizations that meet some other criteria. In some cases, an organization wishing to apply under a particular program must first apply to the Department to be certified as eligible for that program.

Requirements vary from program to program, so be sure to read the application package carefully before preparing your application. Information about the specific eligibility requirements for a program also is available in the application notice or Notice Inviting Applications that the Department publishes in the Federal Register for each new competition.

How can I receive a discretionary grant application package?
There are several ways to receive an application package. You may visit the Department's Web site (, click on the tab for Grants and Contracts, and then click on the link to Finding and Applying. You also may contact EDPubs, the Department's online publications ordering system, via their Web site ( or telephone (877) 433-7827. Lastly, you may contact the office responsible for the program that interests you and request an application package.

How do I apply for funding from a Department discretionary grant program?
Follow the application instructions in the package. You generally will be required to complete and submit to the Department by a specified date certain standard forms, a narrative description of the proposed project, and an estimated budget.

How do I get help filling out the application forms?
The application packages released by the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools contain detailed instructions on how to complete an application. However, if something is still not clear to you after reading the instructions, you should contact us for assistance. The notice inviting applications in the Federal Register provides the name of a contact person. Also, application packages often contain a "Dear Applicant" letter, which usually gives the name of a contact person for applicant inquiries.

Where do I send the completed application?
You should send your grant application to the Application Control Center, which is the administrative unit in the Department authorized to accept applications for discretionary grants. You should do so unless the mailing instructions in the application package indicate otherwise.

What happens if I miss the application deadline?
To be assured of consideration under a discretionary grant competition, an application from an eligible entity - with all forms and other required paperwork - must be mailed to the Application Control Center (or other place specified in the application package) by the deadline date. Applications postmarked after the deadline date will not be read and will not be eligible for an award. On rare occasions, we may extend a deadline for an entire competition. When this happens, a notice is published in the Federal Register. Under no circumstances is the deadline waived for a single late application.

What if I find an error or realize I have omitted something in my application after the deadline?
In order to assure fairness to all applicants, the Department does not allow an applicant to submit additional materials after the deadline.

What happens to an application once the Department receives it?
The Department's Application Control Center records each application, assigns it a PR/Award number, and sends the application to the appropriate program office, which screens the application for eligibility and completeness. The grant team assigned to the program then arranges a competitive review of all eligible applications. The grant team ranks the applications based on reviewers' scores and considers the most highly ranked applications for funding. The authorized program official then awards grants to the successful applicants. If you need to contact us, please identify your application by its PR/Award number.

What happens if my application is not eligible?
If an application does not meet the eligibility criteria for the particular program to which it was sent, the Department notifies the person who signed the application that the application is not eligible and will not be considered. The notification from the Department explains the reason(s) that the application will not be reviewed.

How does the Department review my application?
For the majority of the Department's grant competitions, program offices recruit grant application reviewers from outside the Federal government who have expertise in the subject area(s) of the applications being considered. Each reviewer reads and scores a group of assigned applications. After the reviewers score the applications, the grant team conducts an internal review to assure that the reviewers' scoring sheets are correctly completed and that the application meets all the requirements of the program. These two review processes become the basis for a final listing of applicants that the grant team considers for funding.

What criteria do reviewers use to score my application?
Reviewers score each application against the selection criteria published in the Federal Register as part of the program regulations. In reviewing applications, reviewers are not permitted to use additional criteria or consider any information that is not in the application.

Does a high score guarantee funding?
No. Even if your proposal ranks high and the grant team considers it for funding, your application still might not be funded because of one or more of the following reasons: the large number of high quality applications that were received under the competition; the limited amount of funds Congress has allocated to the program; and/or a geographic distribution requirement for the number of grants awarded to specific regions of the nation for the program under which you applied.

How long does it take the Department to decide on my application?
Although the time varies from program to program, it takes approximately four to six months from the time the Department receives a new application to the time the award is made.

How can I become an application reviewer?
Send a current resume detailing your education and professional background to the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools along with a letter expressing your interest in becoming a reviewer.

Answers to these and other questions can be found online at

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Last Modified: 10/31/2007