Hopes are fading for a school funding deal with Queensland as the state government dramatically hardens its rhetoric and the Commonwealth revises down a key figure.
But federal Education Minister Bill Shorten is more upbeat about winning over the Catholic sector. He said he expected National Catholic Education Commission to come on board within days, following in the footsteps of the Independent Schools Council of Australia.
The federal government has struck deals with NSW, the ACT, South Australia and Tasmania but is yet to persuade the governments of Queensland, Victoria, Northern Territory and Western Australia.
It claims the new needs-based funding system starting in January will deliver almost $15 billion in extra funding for schools over the next six years, with the federal government set to pick up about two-thirds of the tab.
Victoria and Queensland have called on the federal government to increase its funding offers and complained the reforms involved a Canberra power grab over schools run by the states.
Mr Shorten said on Thursday that he was still in talks with both states but sought to allay fears of Commonwealth meddling, declaring the federal government did not want to take over schools.
Mr Shorten said the Victorian and Queensland governments should not miss the opportunity to pour more resources into schools.
But a flare-up in hostilities between the federal and Queensland governments has cast doubt on the prospect of a deal by the new deadline of next week.
Last week’s meeting between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and their respective education ministers Mr Shorten and John-Paul Langbroek ended with Mr Newman praising Mr Rudd's ''refreshing change in approach''.
But just five days later, the state and the Commonwealth are once again at loggerheads, with Mr Langbroek saying he could not see ''any point in meeting with Bill Shorten about Gonski again'' and accusing Mr Rudd of being ''back to his old tricks''.
The turn-about in attitude seemingly boils down to a letter sent from the Prime Minister's department to the Premier's, outlining a $1.3 billion base funding decrease, following verification of Queensland's 2011-14 base funding growth rates.
It says Queensland's base funding growth rate had included enrolment growth assumptions and the funding model used by the Commonwealth also included enrolment growth.
To avoid duplication, Queensland's enrolment assumptions were removed from the equation, which reduced the base funding offer, the letter states. But it adds: ''The commonwealth’s total funding remains consistent with its offer of 14 April 2013.''
Before the Premier's office received the letter, the education ministers had discussed the funding reforms over a phone hook-up, at Mr Shorten's request, on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr Shorten had ended the meeting by offering to fly to Queensland to meet with Mr Langbroek ''to progress the discussions further'', an offer Mr Langbroek turned down, as he had ''no room in his diary''.
Both ministers left the phone discussion feeling positive.
Just a few hours later, following the delivery of the letter, Mr Langbroek had changed his tune, accusing Mr Rudd of returning ''to his old tricks [of] saying one thing behind closed doors and another to the public''.
Mr Langbroek launched a scathing attack on Thursday morning, labelling Mr Rudd as a ''charlatan'' who was not taking a constructive approach.
''Bill Shorten can come on to your show with his velvet tones and try to make out that he's offering us a lot more and that he wants to sit down and talk, while his boss [Mr Rudd] is out there slagging us in a press conference,'' he told ABC Radio.
Mr Shorten said he was gobsmacked by the dramatic change of tone since last week's talks and urged Queensland to move beyond any ''scar tissue'' incurred in previous negotiations.
''What I would say to the Queensland government is, it is difficult running a government. I get that you've got debt issues to work through but please do not be confused by the fact that we are from the Labor side and they are from the conservative side. There should be no politics in school education; the commonwealth government has a very good offer to provide additional resources,'' Mr Shorten said.
Mr Shorten said he had ''a great deal of confidence'' that the federal government would ''receive the ongoing support of the National Catholic Education Commission'' in coming days, even though they still had to resolve some final details.
Fairfax Media understands Catholic education officials will not give the reforms their whole-hearted support but may soon be able to say they can work co-operatively to implement the new system.
Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said Mr Shorten could not be trusted to change the legislation to remove the minister's "new, unprecedented powers".
“Mr Shorten said today he doesn’t want to take over schools, but the reality is the legislation that has passed the Parliament gives the federal minister the power to intervene in every facet of school operations,” Mr Pyne said.