Nick Clegg has warned of a huge battle to secure more cash for schools in the rural Westcountry after admitting the Government pledge will be "controversial" and lead to "winners and losers".
The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking to the Western Morning News about a new national funding formula as he announced a £600 million annual investment in free school meals.
Ahead of his keynote speech to his party conference in Glasgow today, the Liberal Democrat leader said every child in an English infant school will be eligible for a free meal that will save parents about £437 a year for each child.
Another major education reform expected to be unveiled in detail next year will be moving cash away from schools in towns and cities towards the countryside.
He told the WMN: "There has been an unfair arrangement as far as a fair number of rural schools are concerned, dealing with much more hidden levels of deprivation compared to urban deprivation.
"We have announced we are going to seek to move towards a fairer national funding formula if we can get it right – the devil will be in the detail.
"It's not going to be without controversy. There will be winners but there will also be losers. We hope that will help schools in rural areas who feel they have been short-changed."
The South West in particular loses out. Devon sits sixth from bottom in a national league table of 151 education authorities in terms of funding, with schools getting hundreds of pounds less per pupil than the national average and half as much as in parts of London.
Cornwall and Somerset are only marginally better off than Devon.
In his autumn statement in June, Chancellor George Osborne announced schools cash will be allocated in "a fairer way than ever before", confirming that the Government would introduce a new national funding formula to ensure that money is distributed equally.
But Labour is likely to be against the plan and campaign to protect schools cash given to its urban heartlands in the north.
Mr Clegg stopped short of promising reform of a local government funding shortfall called for by MPs in rural areas. They have long been angry that a "rural penalty" means urban authorities get 50% more cash from central Government than rural counterparts.
But Mr Clegg said: "The problem is you're getting everybody claiming their penalised in the financial settlement. Rural areas say their penalised. Urban areas say they're penalised. The north say they're penalised, the south say they are penalised.
"I literally haven't been to any part of the country where people do not say they are not the victims of an unfair local government settlement.
"My own view is there are rather unique circumstances in rural areas – transport costs. There are unique challenges for the big inner-city areas. We've tried to do this as fairly as we can."
On Monday, Mr Clegg said he wanted to offer free bus travel to teenagers, citing youngsters in rural Somerset who have to pay hundreds of pounds a year to get to jobs and training that their equivalent in the city would avoid. He added: "I am keen as a leader of a party with so many councillors and MPs in rural areas to make sure rural areas get a fair deal. And that is what I am striving to do."
He also insisted he would be willing to serve in coalition under either a Labour or Conservative Prime Minister.