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Government in secret bid to secure Gonski deal

The Turnbull government has proposed sweeping concessions to its multi-billion-dollar Gonski 2.0 schools plan including fast-tracked spending and a significant funding boost in an all-out bid to secure Greens support for the reform package.

The extraordinary offer would deliver all of the minor party's key negotiating demands, raising the chances of a major political win for the Coalition before Parliament rises for an extended winter break. 

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'Gonski 2.0' education push

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has introduced legislation and detailed modelling to states under the new 'Gonski 2.0' proposal.

It would also be a strategic blow to Labor, which hopes to keep schools funding as a hot-button issue right through to the next election.

The deal would take the quantum of the government's extra schools spending to as much as $24 billion over the next decade, up from the $18.6 billion already announced.

The approach is part of a two-pronged strategy being pursued by Education Minister Simon Birmingham, with the alternative being a more complex set of deals relying on almost every other crossbench senator.

In the new offer Senator Birmingham has offered to reduce the time frame over which schools would reach their target funding level from 10 years to six. This would result in more money overall and more of that funding delivered faster.

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The government estimates that it would add $1.5 billion to the funding package over the four-year budget period and as much as $5 billion over the decade.

Also proposed in the package, which would require final sign-off from cabinet, is a national schools resourcing body to act as an independent watchdog. 

The body, a key recommendation of the Gonski Report, would have the power to conduct audits and "monitor all levels of funding and expenditure and maintain and review elements of the model such as the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS)".

States would be subject to a so-called "ratchet mechanism" - including penalties for non-compliance - requiring them to increase their share of funding to 75 per cent of the SRS.

A special package of assistance would also be provided to the Northern Territory ensuring the Commonwealth contributed funding worth 25 per cent of the SRS for public schools in the top end.

Currently, due to specific circumstance, NT schools get 23 per cent so the new standard of 20 per cent would have seen them go backwards.

But the future of the package, which takes the government's model even closer to what the original Gonski Report recommended, remains in doubt.

In a sign of the febrile and partisan debate over schools funding, elements of the Greens and the powerful teachers union remain opposed to any accommodation that would politically benefit the Turnbull government. 

"We've been very clear that the government's original proposal wasn't good enough in a number of key areas and that they needed to make changes," said Greens leader Richard Di Natale, when contacted by Fairfax Media. 

"We're speaking with key stakeholders and our party room will then make a decision." That meeting is expected to take place on Monday.

Senator Birmingham on Thursday described the opposition to the plan by Labor and the Australian Education Union as "embarrassing".

"It's embarrassing when you've got David Gonski, Ken Boston, Kathryn Greiner; all of the Gonski panellists lining up and saying that it would be a tragedy if the Turnbull Government's legislation did not get through and yet you've got the Labor Party and the Education Union standing there saying no," he said. 

The legislation is set for debate in the Senate next Wednesday, leaving little time for protracted negotiation and debate before Parliament rises for the long winter break.

Sources say sitting hours will be extended if necessary.

If the Greens deal themselves out of the final compromise, a different deal could be struck with the other crossbench senators.

Derryn Hinch has backed the government and talks with One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team have been progressing well.

Senator Xenophon has said his party could settle for an eight-year timeline. 

However, the government would also need to secure the votes (or abstentions) of senators David Leyonhjelm, Cory Bernardi, Jacqui Lambie and the newly elected Lucy Gichuhi.

In a sign of the internal complexities for the Greens, the NSW branch of the party has already called on their federal colleagues to scuttle the package.

"The NSW Greens don't accept that anything less than the original model of needs-based funding proposed by the Gonski review panel should be supported and we unequivocally call on the federal Liberal-National government to go back to the drawing board," NSW Greens education spokeswoman Tamara Smith said recently.

"Turnbull's new iteration falls well short of the needs-based model that all sides of politics agreed to and saw as a way to finally end the funding wars."

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