The warning came from Sarah Wood, the Local Government Association's director of economic and environmental policy, in her first major public address since being appointed.
'Be in no doubt about ministers' intention to ensure passporting to schools,' she told delegates to the LGA's annual finance conference.
'Passporting limits local choice over what local people want and need - it is not an ephemeral thing.
But local government's response must be evidence-based, said Ms Wood.
Her message was reinforced by local government minister Nick Raynsford.
He warned delegates the high council tax increases of last year must not be repeated in the wake of a 'good' provisional finance settlement.
A greater focus on value for money is 'absolutely essential', and councils must play their part in delivering quality public services without raising council tax to 'unsustainable' levels, he said.
The threat of capping was not an idle one, added Mr Raynsford.
'We must all be clear that year-on-year increases in council tax on the scale [seen last year] are not acceptable to voters or to the government.
'We would prefer councils to be answerable to the electorate, but cannot stand aside if there is a continuation of unreasonable increases.'