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Letter from the Commissioner: Providing Clarity on NCER Funding and Fiscal Year 2023 Competitions

On May 26th, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) posted a Federal Register notice, which shared details about the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 funding opportunities for the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). For NCER, this includes the Research Training in the Education Sciences (84.305B) and Using Longitudinal Data for State Policymaking (84.305S) grant programs. We also shared in the notice that NCER will not be competing three of our main grant programs during FY 2023, including the Education Research Grants (305A) program. This update will explain why that decision was made, reassure you that we are hopeful we'll have sufficient funding to compete more grant programs during the FY 2024 funding cycle, and reinforce our commitment to newly funded and ongoing projects.

NCER's Grant Funding: Where the Money Comes From and How It is Spent

To start, let's talk about how NCER's research programs are funded. Within the larger IES appropriations account, the Research, Development, and Dissemination (RD&D) line supports NCER research and research training grants programs along with a number of other activities, such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, work by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), and the IES-wide dissemination and communication infrastructure.

As those of you who have been funded by NCER know, grant recipients receive funding in annual increments. Once we make an award, we are committed to providing annual costs for a continuing project through the duration of the designated study period. We refer to these on-going projects as non-competing continuations (NCCs). Consequently, the amount of money available to support new research and training awards each year is contingent, in part, upon the number of NCC awards and their outyear costs. The amount of funding allocated to cover outyears for NCC awards varies over the years due to fluctuations in the number of awards we make in any given year and their associated future costs.

We have also increased maximum funding levels for our projects during the FY 2021 competition cycle after many years of holding the maximum award per project type constant. We did this to ensure that project teams have sufficient funds to carry out their proposed work, especially given additional requirements such as cost analyses, more extensive dissemination activities, and data sharing. These fluctuations in the total number of awards currently being supported, and the increased average cost of individual projects, as well as variability in the level of other planned expenditures supported by the RDD line, occasionally limit our ability to support new awards and competitions. FY 2023 is one of those years.

FY 2023 Competition Planning: Good News and Not-so-Good News

When we received our FY 2022 RD&D appropriation in March 2022, we determined how many new awards we would be able to fund for our FY 2022 305A, 305B, and 305R competitions. We do not have sufficient funds available to support all of the applications across all three competitions that were considered by peer reviewers to have outstanding or excellent scientific merit. After projecting how much funding would be available for new FY 2023 awards, assuming a level RD&D appropriation, we made the difficult decision to not invite applications for three of our primary grant programs.

We do anticipate having sufficient funding available, however, to provide opportunities in FY 2023 in several key areas. These include our state-level partnership grant program that seeks applications focused on understanding how state-level strategies are working to improve equitable outcomes for underserved students (84.305S), and two of our training programs (84.305B) designed to broaden participation in the education sciences (one focused on early career scholars at MSIs, and another focused on methods training in data science). In addition, we are committed to running the planned competition (84.305N) to support research teams to join the Digital Learning Platforms Network (also known as SEERNet). As stated previously, all on-going NCC projects will also be funded as they normally would.

A Little Bit of History

This is not the first time that NCER has had to make hard decisions. In FY 2013 and FY 2014, we couldn't fund all applications that received outstanding and excellent scientific merit scores and had to restrict which grant programs, and project types within grant programs, we funded. In addition, we moved from two submission dates to one after the FY 2013 competition cycle, in part because we were no longer able to project with enough certainty that we could fund all highly-rated applications across the two deadlines. We moved to a single deadline, so we did not privilege applicants who applied to an earlier deadline over those that applied to the later deadline. We have also restricted competitions in some years — such as during the FY 2016 Education Research Grants competition, when we did not accept applications to develop and pilot test interventions (what was then our Development and Innovation research goal).

Supporting the Education Research Infrastructure at IES

It is also important to know that as IES actively seeks to modernize its outreach and communications, including through significant investments in digital modernization, funds to support those efforts come from the RD&D line. In the near term, IES is seeking to substantially improve its web presence, making it easier for the many communities we serve to locate the research and evidence-based practices they need to improve outcomes for all learners. Looking farther to the future, we're considering how other key components of our digital education science infrastructure — like the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) — can be modernized. Imagine, for example, a version of ERIC that was XML-based, making it more like NIH's PubMed and more accessible to data scientists and others who want to tap its vast resources. These critical improvements, and many others, should be in IES's "digital future" as we look to strengthen our investments in education science.

Looking Into the Crystal Ball

What about FY 2024? What should the research community expect from NCER? As we look at our anticipated levels of available funding, we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to compete a larger number of grant programs — including our Education Research Grants program. We will know more once Congress concludes the FY 2023 appropriations process. We will continue to share what we are planning as our funding levels become clearer. And, of course, our program officers will continue to support our current and newly funded project teams and plan for our FY 2024 competitions. We will be working collaboratively with partners across IES and the Department of Education to actively engage with our audiences and share what we have learned from our research and research training investments over the past 20 years.

As I step back and think about the abundance of research that we have funded over the years, and the strong response from the field as we offer new funding opportunities, I think it is important to note that the field of education sciences is robust and healthy and prepared to use rigorous methods to address challenges of relevance to improving learner outcomes across the life span. The fact that the capacity in the field to do high quality research and carry out excellent research training outstrips available funding to support that work at IES is a positive development — one that reflects how our field has transformed over the past twenty years. I know that many of you are disappointed that our ability to offer competitions this year is limited. But know that there are opportunities both at NCER and NCSER for funding in FY 2023, and that there will be future opportunities in FY 2024.

Please feel free to reach out to me at if you have any questions or comments. I'm always happy to hear from you.