JULIA Gillard was big on inspiration and aspiration when she stepped out on schools policy, but short on detail.
Rallying the community to a "crusade" on education, she left the difficult stuff for another day. Better to arm wrestle those pesky (and mostly Liberal) premiers in private, rather than spoil a grandiose public pitch.
She warned that she won't be giving the states a blank cheque. But she would not reveal the size of the cheque she will offer them towards the total of $6.5 billion extra a year, recommended by the Gonski review, that she endorsed in her announcement. Nor would she outline any proposed details of the phase-in to be executed between 2014 and 2020 of the new system.
Education is Labor's natural ground and Gillard's performance was upbeat. She should start with an advantage over Tony Abbott. But the way ahead holds plenty of obstacles for her.
She has set herself an ambitious timetable a deal on the new framework by early next year. The haggling with the states will begin in earnest soon they were firing their early shots yesterday and it won't be pretty. Apart from pursuing their own interests, those conservative premiers will also be playing politics, driven in part by the closeness to the federal election. Gillard has put herself totally on the line she will lead the negotiations with the states.
Critics will be emboldened by the prospect that, as the new system would not start until 2014 and Abbott will likely be in power by then, it could be stillborn.
Gillard is using every opportunity to try to keep the debate on the high ground for example, by pledging to enshrine in legislation the goal of having Australia in the world's top five schools systems on various key measures by 2025. By then, would anyone remember such a symbolic gesture? Probably not.
They would be judging the reality. The school funding debate will be among the most meaty policy clashes of coming months. Gillard has to get traction from it if she is to lift Labor's stocks.
She always says education is her passion she needs to turn that into political capital.