Specialist schools now number 834 and the Government wants 1,500 by 2005, including the new categories of business, maths, engineering, computing and science.
However, in some areas enthusiasm from local companies has worn thin with too many schools competing for the same pot of money.
Other high-profile government initiatives such as city academies, where millionaire entrepreneurs pump cash into failing schools, also risk stealing the specialist thunder.
Beaumont, a 1,100-pupil high school, joined forces with two neighbouring schools to raise funds for specialist status. But the paltry sponsorship secured so far means the schools fear a huge amount of time and effort has been wasted.
Nicholas Daymond, deputy head at Beaumont, which wants language status, said: "We didn't want to end up cutting one another's throats so we joined together.
"We designed a brochure and approached local and national companies. But businesses have been deluged with requests for funds and they seem to have reached saturation point.
"The fact that we are in Hertfordshire does not help because we are not perceived as a particularly needy area. It is very frustrating."
The schools may be forced into asking parents for money and organising fundraising events.
Mr Daymond said: "It does not really fit with the spirit of specialist schools, which was to establish close links with local business."
Earlier this year, The TES reported that the head of a Leeds secondary advertised in Private Eye magazine in a bid to generate cash.