David Blunkett, the education secretary, said yesterday that he would take a 'robust' line against councils that have 'siphoned off' part of the extra£1.1bn which was targeted at education this year.
The councils will be asked to explain why they have not given sufficient priority to schools, and if they are deemed to have spent to much on running town hall education bureaucracy, they will be ordered to dispense more money to schools next year.
But opposition parties accused Mr Blunkett of trying to hoodwink voters by witholding the names of the offending councils until after the local elections next month.
Mr Blunkett said he wrote to 18 authorities last month to complain that they were not increasing their education budgets by as much as they were allowed.
A party source said the councils were Brent, Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, Dorset, Hackney, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, North Somerset, Redbridge, South Gloucestershire, Walsall, Waltham Forest, West Sussex and Wiltshire. Most are Labour-led or have no party in overall control.
Five responded by increasing their education spending, but the source said other authorities are being identified as underspenders as the government receives fuller information on 1999-2000 budgets. It was likely that one in six of the 150 education authorities would be on the eventual list of offenders.
The Labour spokesman said councils would be criticised regardless of which party was in control. He said he was 'not aware' of any Labour authourities facing elections next month that were facing criticism from ministers in June.
Graham Lane, the Local Government Association's chair of education, said: 'We are used to being on the receiving end of misleading statistics, but these figures are downright lies. Government findings show that more than two-thirds of LEAs are spending well in excess of their education targets.'
Neil Fletcher, the LGA's head of education, said: 'The overwhelming majority of new money has gone straight to schools or is being spent on services such as pre-school education, special needs, literacy, adult education and the youth service.
'Cash is alsp spent on LEA-wide initiatives such as education action zones, the new IT Grid for Learning and paying for extra teachers as a result of rising school rolls.'