THE states have demanded the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, urgently spell out her signature education reforms amid fears time is running out to effectively implement the $6.5 billion in new spending on schools.
Uncertainty about the Gonski reform package has been highlighted by Queensland stating it may not include any extra money in its 2013-14 budget, despite Ms Gillard's desired deadline of introducing the reforms from the start of 2014.
Manoeuvring by Queensland and other states has fuelled doubts about whether a deal will be done, with key players saying the impasse needs to be sorted out within three months if the spending is to meet the deadline.
The Australian Education Union urged governments to put aside their differences, insisting it was crunch time as budget season was approaching and fairer funding was meant to take effect next year.
Leaders must work out the details by the next Council of Australian Governments meeting, in March or April, and include funding in their next budgets, the AEU federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, said.
"If not, it will be at their peril. I'm talking about all politicians,'' he said. "We believe the deal can be done and, in the national interest, must be done by the end of March.''
But tough talking from conservative-led states does not bode well for a deal before a federal election due in the second half of the year. NSW, Victoria and Queensland have complained they still do not know how much extra money they are expected to cough up, with one state minister likening the process to "Chinese water torture".
The Queensland Education Minister, John-Paul Langbroek, accused Ms Gillard of seeking to use the school shake-up as a ''cynical'' ploy to score political points with both eyes fixed on the election.
He said his government would start working on its next budget papers as though the present school funding arrangements would stay in 2014. ''We've had absolutely no detail about numbers," Mr Langbroek said. ''We don't have a model from which we can work and we also don't have any idea about what state contributions are supposed to be let alone whether we can afford them.''
NSW echoed the concerns, and a spokesman for the Victorian Education Minister, Martin Dixon, said: ''Victoria remains in the dark on the detail.''
Under the reforms, a base level of funding would be allocated for each student and this would be topped up with ''loadings'' recognising disadvantage and other special needs.
The proposals, based on a review by David Gonski in 2010, are touted as a fairer way to decide how much support each school needs but will require $6.5 billion a year in extra funding.
The federal School Education Minister, Peter Garrett, said the government would provide further details at a February 1 meeting with state ministers.