Why are we not surprised? Any decline in the funding for the non–Gov sector will be poison in key electorates if it hits either of two key groups: the Catholic parents and “Howard’s Aspirationals”. With Abbott trying to wedge Labor on this, a just solution is almost impossible. I expect Gonski to be sensible and rational, but the ultimate solution to be anything but. Probably good for Chev, but not for a nations young people.

In the meantime, let’s get on with improving outcomes for our kids, now that we have the inkling of a roadmap.

This article is from the February 18 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition.

Phillip Coorey

CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT

A LANDMARK review into the funding formula for schools will be only the start of the process to develop a final policy as the Gillard government seeks to limit conflict in the education sector and protect its plans to return the federal budget to surplus.

With key players in the sector anxiously awaiting the release on Monday of the Gonski review, the government’s initial response will be to commission a series of working groups and reviews to consider the recommendations rather than announce a specific policy response.

One senior source said the new funding model that would be adopted could be some years off.

The government planned to take a policy to the next election, due in the spring of next year.

It is understood the Gonski review will propose a significant increase in funding for both public and non-government schools and the federal government does not want to make any immediate commitment given its pledge to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13 .

Commissioned more than 18 months ago, the Review of Funding for Schooling has been conducted by an independent panel led by businessman and academic, David Gonski.

It has received about 7000 submissions and its release comes amid new data showing the performance of Australian students is slipping relative to their regional counterparts.

A senior source said the government would take the process seriously, but it would not be rushing out a policy response.

‘‘ A lot more work is needed. We won’t be committing any extra money until further work is carried out to make sure that any new funding system will deliver results.’’

Working groups will be established involving all key players in the policy development process.

These would include education unions, parents, teacher and principal organisations, the Catholic sector and private and state school organisations.

State governments, which provide the bulk of education funding and which will be called upon to lift their contribution, will be consulted through the Council of Australian Governments process.

Hostility between key players is already evident in anticipation of Monday’s release. The government believes this can be ironed out if all are consulted before a final policy is announced.

The Gonski review has been billed as the precursor to the biggest shake-up of school funding since the 1970s.

Most contentious will be the recommendations to the formula which allocated funds for public and non-government schools. Taking into account funding from both tiers of government, each public school student receives about $11,000 per student and a private school about $4000.

The public sector is demanding a larger slice of the funding pie and the private sector is worried it will lose funding in real terms.

The Greens and the Australian Education Union stepped up their calls for a greater proportion for the public sector, saying it needed an extra $10 billion a year.

The Greens leader, Bob Brown, said the government should not delay action until after the 2013 election.

‘‘ In this great secular country of ours, you have to fund the public education system adequately if you’re going to do that. And that hasn’t happened,’’ he said. ‘‘ The government needs to bring forward action this year, not leave it until after the election.’’

The federal opposition has already begun siding with the private sector, accusing the government of preparing to engage in class warfare by cutting nongovernment school funding.

School funding has been especially contentious since Mark Latham, as Labor leader, drew up a ‘‘ hit list’ ’ of 67 private schools which were to have funding redistributed to needy public schools. The policy was never enacted.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald