Association for Behavior Analysis International

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Getting Funding from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services; US Department of Education

By Jennifer M. Asmus, Ph.D.




The U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE) houses the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), which is one of six principal offices run by the U.S. DOE. I will discuss OSERS funding that is linked to Part D priorities within IDEA. Projects funded under Part D monies needs to be aligned with the goals of IDEA by clearly specifying the intended outcomes for children and youth with disabilities as well as specific research outcomes.


There are a variety of funding options available through OSERS Part D monies, such as Student-Initiated Research Projects (CFDA #84.324B) and Initial Career Awards (CFDA #84.324N). Each provides one year of funding (up to $20,000 for student-initiated and $75,000 for initial career awards). Twelve student awards and four initial-career awards are typically funded each cycle. Dire ted Research Topics (CFDA #84.324D) support research to practice projects while the focus of Field Initiated c Research Projects (CFDA #84.324C) are quite broad (supports innovation, development, and advancement of knowledge and practice). All of these grant competitions are competitive discretionary grants (meaning tied to legislative and regulatory requirements of IDEA). Directed research and field initiated grants are funded for up to $180,000 per year for three years ($540,000 total). There are several other types of funding available, such as model demonstration projects, personnel preparation, and outreach projects. (For more information on these and other funding options see the "grant opportunities " section of


When there is a call for proposals, it comes in the form of an "absolute priority," under which there are three to four "broad areas of focus" stated (e.g., access to learning, accountability and reform, social and emotional development). For directed research grants, each of these areas of focus has several "target areas" to select from (e.g., research on early childhood mental health, assessing self-determination skills) and each focus area has a set number of awards to fund (eight-ten for each priority). Field-initiated projects list out three to four invitational priorities but all 14 awards are allotted across all areas.


A team of outside peer reviewers that changes with each competition reviews research grants. This panel may include consumers of research, such as parents, persons with disabilities, or practitioners. Peer reviewers read and score a group of assigned applications and give a proposal a pre-panel score from 0 (lowest) to 100 (highest). This score is based on adding the scores for each individual section of the proposal. There are five sections: significance (20 points), quality of the project design (35 points), quality of project personnel (20 points), quality of the management plan (15 points), and adequacy of resources (10 points). After the pre-panel review, the entire group meets again to review and discuss all of the applications and reviewers have the opportunity to change their scores. There is then typically some standardization of scoring conducted by OSERS and they review all of the proposals prior to making final decisions on which proposals will be funded. Typically Congress has to approve the funding of awards (i.e., release the funds) prior to the program officer notifying recipients.


I have submitted single-case design projects to directed research (both were funded) and field-initiated (not funded) competitions. The time from submission to decision ranged from two to five months. There were three to four reviewers assigned to each proposal. Justification of the number of participants to be included, communicating a clear and reasonable research plan, and the ability to demonstrate that the project would improve educational practices/educational outcomes for children with disabilities appeared critical based on reviewer feedback.


Where to Begin


It all begins with the notice in the Federal Registrar of grant competitions ( website provides links to the OSERS charts of the anticipated or actual application notice and deadlines for submission and review. The forecast tables also specify the number of awards and amounts. This issue is very crucial. For example, the field initiated competition is very fierce, over 100 applications typically submitted for 14 awards. However, directed research grants have fewer applications and a larger number of awards when there is sufficient notice (3 months) and even less competition (e.g., 55 applications for 22 awards) when there is minimal notice (typically one month notice in the summer). So it pays to know the typical grant deadline cycle but also to watch for and be prepared for unexpected announcements.


Suggestions to Maximize Scoring


Here are a few suggestions to maximize your chances of funding, based on my own experience. First, check with the program officer assigned to the project competition to be sure your idea sounds like one that would be considered favorably by the panel. Second, the director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) delivers an address about the upcoming priorities for the next fiscal year at the annual project director's meeting held the second week in July in Washington, DC. This information may help to prepare in advance for certain focus areas of grant competitions for the coming year. Finally, the details of the grant application are the most important to attend to. If the information is incomplete or missing, chances are you will not be funded. There is a page limit (typically 50 double spaced pages) and the reviewers are only required to read the items included in those 50 pages. There are also several "assurances" that you need to carefully review and include in the proposal. For example, state which of the absolute priorities your application addresses, and discuss how you plan to try to recruit persons with disabilities and/or from under represented ethnic groups to be a part of the project team. We always highlighted the page number where we addressed these assurances as a separate table prior to the table of contents in the pages of the application.


In summary, although $180,000 per year is getting harder to stretch (our universities' 45% indirect costs come out of that $180,000 per year) OSERS funding is an excellent federal mechanism to begin a programmatic line of behavioral research.




Modifed by Eddie Soh