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An Insider’s Peek at CSP Grants

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in the Charter School Program (CSP) Grant Reviews? I have worked on the grant review team and I assure you that the review process is comprehensive and detailed. You can be confident that grants reviewed by the CSP teams are evaluated fairly and thoroughly.

How does it work?

Charter school experts from across the USA are invited to join the CSP Grant Review Team and then screened for any possible conflicts of interest. If they are approved, they are trained through a webinar and assigned to a Review Team. Each Review Team is given a certain number of grants to review against a standard rubric. Each member of the team analyses each grant application individually, scoring each section and making comments to justify the scores. Then the team meets on a conference call to discuss and debate the scores and comments. After all scores and comments have been finalized, they are entered into the grants website and reviewed by the CSP team for final decisions on grant awards.



What are they looking for?

Using the standard rubric that is provided, the team members read through each application and make comments to identify the areas of strength and weakness they found. Questions must be answered within the application. The reviewers are not allowed to refer to the school’s website or any other external references in their review.

It is important that the grant application clearly respond to each and every criterion in the rubric in order to receive the highest score. The rubric has weighted categories, so the team is looking to see how many points should be assigned to each question. Some of the categories are worth 20 points, while others may be worth only 2 points. Did the applicant fully demonstrate their understanding of the question? Did they showcase their expertise and express their vision with clarity? Does their plan make sense? Do all the numbers add up? Is the reader left with a sense of confidence in the school’s ability to accomplish their goals? The rubric provides an objective measure, but a certain amount of human judgment is still required.


If you are preparing for a Federal Grant, I recommend these books.

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CSP Grant winners and what they teach us

The charter schools that won presented compelling cases for the programs they wanted to fund. The top school in the 2018 competition earned 99 out of a possible 100 points! Well done, Prospect Schools, Inc.

The highest scoring applications met every criterion on the rubric. They described the need for the proposed expansion or replication with solid data and visionary language. They explained how they plan to meet that need, how their current programs are already meeting that need, and how an expansion or replication would benefit the community. They had a deep bench on their administrative team and board of directors, with many leaders who had advanced degrees, rich and related experience, and clear commitment to their organization. They offered a budget and timeline that were easy to read with appropriate detail, and they clearly answered all the questions a reviewer might have about how they planned to use the funds. And finally, they documented their impact on student achievement, showing impressive growth and proficiency, both overall and for at risk groups.

The schools that did not receive my recommendation presented grant applications that were incomplete or unclear. They may not have demonstrated a strong need for the program they envisioned. Or the application failed to show they have the capacity to carry it off. Some applications did not clearly answer the questions or address all the points that were required. Some were strong on vision, but weak on details. Others left us buried in details but unclear of the purpose.

A rigorous review process

As a grant review team, we read each application carefully, took notes independently, and scored each section using the rubric provided. Then we came together on a conference call and shared our scores. We had to justify each score to the other members of the team. Sometimes we would convince the others to change their scores, and sometimes we changed ours. Sometimes we agreed to meet in the middle, while at other times we agreed to disagree and we let the various scores stand. It was a rigorous and complex process, conducted with professionalism and absolute commitment to what we believe is best for the schoolsand the CSP Grant program.


What if you could lead your charter school to have greater impact and solve real, meaningful problems in your community?  What if you could partner with other organizations that care about those same problems?  You can!  Get started with this introduction to grant-writing leadership.  This eBook will help you answer the question, "Can I write that grant?"



How does this help you?

You can use their success to help you write a better grant.Keep the following information in mind as you plan and write your grant application:

  • Consider the bigger picture. How does your project compare to other grant proposals that have been approved in the past?

  • Consider the granting agency’s viewpoint. How will your grant project help the US Department of Education or your state entity meet its goals and fulfill its statutory obligations?

  • Consider your school’s perspective. How does this proposed project further your school’s mission and vision?

  • Consider your team’s capacity. How will this project impact your team?

While it is important to be ambitious and visionary in your plans for charter school development, consider whether your team has the capacity and community support to implement these plans. Be realistic and plan for every contingency. Grants can provide the funds you need to make your dreams come true, but you still need to do the work and make the hard decisions.


Check out these related posts

Get a FREE Grant Writing Worksheet to make the job easier with this link.


Peggy Downs works with school leaders who want to leverage grants to dramatically increase funding, impact, and credibility for their schools. More info and a ton of free resources are waiting for you at:

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