The federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has urged his NSW MPs to lobby members of the O'Farrell government to dump plans to cut tens of millions of dollars in funding from Catholic and independent schools.
The government is preparing to announce it will freeze funding for non-government schools from next year as part of cuts to private and public schools in NSW.
It initially proposed to cut $67 million from independent schools, according to those present in a briefing to the non-government school sector by Mr Piccoli last week.
Mr Abbott told the Liberals' party room this morning he was concerned by the proposed cuts as the Liberal Party had a proud history of funding independent and Catholic schools.
"It's in our DNA," a source quoted him as saying.
He was quoted as saying NSW Liberals should lobby their state colleagues and make as many firm representations to them as possible to alter their view.
But he also acknowledged the state government was under significant budget pressure.
The cuts were raised by the member for Mitchell, Alex Hawke, who took aim at the NSW education minister, Adrian Piccoli, a Nationals MP.
"This wouldn't have happened if we had a Liberal in the education portfolio in NSW," Mr Hawke told the party room, according to a source.
He said Liberals helping at booths were subject to angry complaints from parents concerned at the cuts.
Mr Hawke, who was backed by the Victorian MP, Alan Tudge, called for a "signal" to be sent by the federal party room to state MPs over the issue.
Mr Tudge said the planned cuts had repercussions beyond NSW because they could damage the party's standing with independent and Catholic schools.
Both men received widespread backing from colleagues.
The federal opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, said he was concerned about funding cuts to both private and public schools.
The source said Mr Piccoli's timing could not have been worse.
"In the week that the Prime Minister is speaking about better funding through Gonski you have a Nationals minister talking about funding cuts," the source said. "It makes him appear very foolish."
Several Labor MPs also spoke out about the proposed cuts in a federal caucus meeting this morning, railing against Mr O'Farrell's "hit list" of independent schools.