Funding GRANTS
What Should I Know About ED Grants? - September 1998
3 On the Paper Trail
Archived Information

Asking for grant funds from the Department of Education is not a complicated process, but it requires that you give us specific information to enable us to consider your request fairly and completely. When you apply for discretionary grant funds, you must provide and send us information on two or more different forms. This section identifies some of these forms, why each is needed, how to get copies of them, and where to send them. The Department is making every effort to give applicants a longer period of time to prepare their applications before the application deadline date.

How do I apply for funding from a Department discretionary grant program?

Contact the program office responsible for the program that interests you and request an application package. Follow the application instructions in the package. You will generally 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.

What is an application package?

A discretionary grant application package contains all of the information and forms that you will need to apply for funds from the Department. Application packages typically include the application notice, program regulations and/or legislation, and application instructions and forms. These forms include the Application for Federal Education Assistance or ED 424, as well as the certifications and assurances needed to apply for a grant. Some application packages contain a ‘Dear Colleague’ or ‘Dear Applicant’ letter from a Principal Office official, which gives an overview of the particular program and discusses any funding priorities in effect for a particular competition.

How do I get an application package?

Application packages are available from the specific program office that is responsible for a particular program. Some application packages are published in the Federal Register for an applicant to photocopy and use. Federal Register notices also provide the names of individuals to contact to obtain applications. Furthermore, some application packages are available and can be downloaded and printed from the Department’s Web site. The program office for the program in which you are interested can tell you how to get a copy of the application package for that specific program.

How does the Department decide what goes into an application package?

The Department uses forms designed to obtain from applicants the information necessary to process their application. Certain forms are required by the Department’s regulations or applicable statutes. Others are required by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Department is aware of the paperwork burden that the grants process imposes on applicants. The Department is continuously trying to determine ways to reduce paperwork and welcomes your suggestions for doing so.

What are certifications and assurances?

Various federal requirements are imposed on applicants and grantees as a condition of receiving grant funds. Application packages contain forms that an applicant is required to sign, promising to abide by various federal laws, regulations, and executive orders that apply to grantees. Certifications relate to issues such as maintaining a drug-free workplace. Assurances relate to issues such as complying with nondiscrimination laws. Some programs give funding to a grantee, who then distributes some of the money to other persons--e.g., fellowship holders, contractors, and others. In these cases, grantees might be required to get certain forms signed by those persons as well.

What are regulations?

The Department uses two types of regulations to award and administer discretionary grants and cooperative agreements: program and administrative regulations. Program regulations are rules that apply to all applicants and/or grantees under a particular program. They implement legislation passed by Congress to authorize a specific program, and include applicant and participant eligibility criteria, nature of activities funded, allowability of certain costs, criteria under which applications will be selected for funding, and other relevant information. Administrative regulations, on the other hand, apply to all grantees regardless of the program. They implement guidance from OMB contained in circulars, Presidential Executive Orders, and legislation that affects all applicants for, or recipients of, federal grants and cooperative agreements. One group of these administrative regulations is collectively known as EDGAR(Education Department General Administrative Regulations). The Grants Policy and Oversight Staff maintains EDGAR and ensures that program offices interpret and apply the regulations to their programs appropriately. The Department posts both program and administrative regulations on its Web site. In addition, new and amended program and administrative regulations issued by the Department and published throughout the year in the Federal Register are also posted on the Web site.

What are funding priorities?

For some programs, the Department publishes funding priorities in the Federal Register to identify the activities that will be funded in a given year. Funding priorities are used as a way of focusing a competition on the areas in which the Secretary 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 projects that are designed to achieve this result could potentially receive funding.
  • If the Department publishes ‘competitive priorities’ for a program, applicants addressing those priorities might receive additional points during the competitive review process for doing so.
  • If the Department publishes ‘invitational priorities’, it encourages applicants to address certain issues in their project design. However, an application that meets the priority receives no competitive or absolute preference over applications that do not meet the priority.

If you are considering submitting an application, be sure to read all the material in the application package carefully to identify any published priorities.

Is there anything I can do to help shape regulations and funding priorities?

Yes. The public has the opportunity to comment on proposed regulations and funding priorities. Before the Department formally publishes regulations and funding priorities, it issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or notice of proposed funding priorities. The notice outlines the proposed rules and priorities and invites the public to comment on them by a certain deadline. The comments received are then considered in the final drafting of the regulations. Sometimes, the Department accepts comments at publicly announced hearings. You can review the Federal Register for Department of Education notices of proposed priorities and rulemaking and provide comments during the specified comment period to the persons named or at the places identified in the notices.

How do I get help filling out the application forms?

Most of the Department’s application packages contain detailed instructions on how to complete an application. However, if something is still not clear to you after reading the instructions, you can contact the program office that handles that particular program for help. The notice inviting applications for a competition, published in the Federal Register gives the name of a contact person. In addition, application packages often contain a ‘Dear Colleague’ or a ‘Dear Applicant’ letter, which usually gives the name of a contact person for applicant inquiries. Some program offices also sponsor pre-application workshops to assist potential applicants in the application process.

What do I need to know about indirect costs and the indirect cost rate when preparing my application?

Many applicants request funds for indirect costs that they incur while doing the work of a project under a federally funded program. Such costs are usually charged to the grant as a percentage of some or all of the other direct cost items in the applicant’s budget. This percentage is called an indirect cost rate. Federal guidelines treat indirect costs as an allowable expense, and require that a grantee have an indirect cost rate that has been approved by the federal government, either yearly or on some other regular cycle.

OMB has assigned different federal departments and agencies responsibility for establishing indirect cost rates for different classes of grantees. For example, most universities and colleges establish their rates with the Department of Health and Human Services, while a nonprofit research organization that does a great deal of defense contracting would probably have its rate established by some unit of the Department of Defense. Under OMB Circular A-87, Cost Principles for State, Local, and Indian Tribal Governments, OMB has assigned the Department of Education responsibility for reviewing, negotiating, and approving indirect cost rate proposals from most state and local educational agencies, as well as from some states’ other social service agencies. The indirect cost rate established for a grantee by the federal department or agency assigned the responsibility for a class of grantees is accepted by the other federal agencies.

Applicants wishing to apply to the Department (or any other federal department or agency) for a grant that allows indirect costs are well advised to have established an indirect cost rate with their assigned department or agency of the federal government before preparing and sending their application. The process can be lengthy and applicants should begin the process at least 90-120 days before the application deadline.

Applicants who do not know which federal department or agency is responsible for establishing indirect cost rates for their class of grantee should speak with the program contact person named in the application package. That person will be able to refer the applicant to persons in the Department who can answer questions about establishing indirect cost rates.

What do I need to know about protection of human subjects in research when preparing my application?

If you plan to conduct research activities involving human subjects at any time during the proposed project period, you will need to tell us at the time of application. You will need to indicate on the Application for Federal Education Assistance (ED 424) if the research activities are exempt. If they are covered (not exempt), you will need to provide specific information about the research activities. If your application is recommended for funding, the Department will ask you to submit an Assurance, if you did not have one at the time of application, and to send us certification that the Institutional Review Board (IRB) named in the Assurance has reviewed and approved the covered research activities. Keep in mind, however, that you are not required to have an Assurance or an IRB in place when you apply to the Department for an award. For additional information about the protection of human subjects in research, check the Department’s Protection of Human Subjects in Research Web site at

Where do I send the completed application?

You should send your grant application to the Application Control Center, the administrative unit in the Department of Education authorized to accept applications for discretionary grants and cooperative agreements. 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 applicant--with all forms and other required paperwork--must be mailed to the Application Control Center (or other place specified in the application package) before the closing date. The Department has an absolute policy of not accepting applications that are not mailed by the deadline for a particular program’s competition, known as the deadline date (or the ‘closing date’). The Department notifies an applicant that an application will not be considered if it is received without a legible postmark or other proof of mailing specified by the Department reflecting the closing date of the competition. Please note that some programs can require that applications be received in the Department by the deadline or closing date.

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. Applications considered for funding in the Department’s regional offices are sent to the grant administrator for that region. The authorized program official (or regional grants administrator) then awards grants to the successful applicants.

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 is not being reviewed in the competition.

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Last Modified: 10/26/2004