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Victoria upbeat on talks with Shorten on schools

''It's certainly a help talking to a Victorian about Victorian education": Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon says on talks with new Federal Education Minister Bill Shorten.

''It's certainly a help talking to a Victorian about Victorian education": Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon says on talks with new Federal Education Minister Bill Shorten. Photo: Penny Stephens

New federal Education Minister Bill Shorten understands Victoria's absolute commitment to a funding deal that ensures no school is worse off and avoids any takeover of the state's schools, according to Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon.

Mr Dixon was upbeat after his first meeting with Mr Shorten on Friday.

He said he was glad to be engaging with a Victorian who understood the state's education funding arrangements and the fact schools already enjoyed considerable autonomy.

''It's certainly a help talking to a Victorian about Victorian education,'' he said in a veiled reference to the fact former school education minister Peter Garrett was from NSW.

Premier Denis Napthine last month rejected the Commonwealth proposal of an additional $4.2 billion in combined state and federal funding over six years.

His counter-offer of $10.5 billion appeared to up the ante considerably – Victoria would contribute an extra $3.5 billion if the Commonwealth contributed $7 billion.

However Mr Dixon confirmed the Victorian proposal of $10.5 billion includes annual indexation, whereas the $4.2 billion proposed by the Commonwealth is on top of annual federal indexation of 4.7 per cent and state indexation of 3 per cent.

This means the state and federal proposals are closer than they appeared at first blush, and explains why Mr Shorten said on Thursday: ''To be fair to the people we're dealing with, I get the impression they're not looking for truckloads of cash.''

''I think the $3.5 billion we have put on the table has got credibility and therefore there is a willingness to continue to work on those figures,'' Mr Dixon told Fairfax Media.

He said state and federal officials would meet every day next week to hammer out his concerns that Commonwealth regulations – which are not yet finalised – would dictate too explicitly how Victoria distributed funding to individual state schools.

Victoria was also concerned about regulations governing accountability and reporting and the power the Commonwealth would have to determine school programs.

''There is a range of issues regarding the regulations ... that will be a key part of the work,'' Mr Dixon said.

He said Victoria would work towards reaching agreement by July 14 – the extended deadline set by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Mr Shorten said the Commonwealth’s offer of more than $4 billion stands: ‘‘This is a generous and serious offer''.

‘‘In return we are asking for the state to maintain its current funding levels, indexed at 3 per cent,’’ he said.

‘‘This is not a Commonwealth takeover but we do want to see real improvements in return for significantly more Commonwealth funding – this means all students funded fairly and consistently based on need.’’

South Australia, NSW and the ACT were the only jurisdictions to sign up to the funding and school improvement reforms under former prime minister Julia Gillard.

Mr Rudd supports the reforms, but has rebadged them ''Better Schools'', amid concerns the phrase ''Gonski reforms'' was confusing and mums and dads had little idea what was meant.

He said he didn't believe David Gonski, the businessman who chaired the review into school funding, would want his name appropriated to describe the reforms.

''The Prime Minister said to me 'Gonksi is Gone-ski','' Dr Napthine said this week.

''I think it was a pretty matter-of-fact conversation.''

jtopsfield@theage.com.au

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