Matt Hancock has pledged to spend more money on schools than Tory leadership rivals Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.
His rivals promised to increase spending on schools, as the issue took centre stage in the race to succeed Theresa May as prime minister.
Mr Hancock, currently health secretary, told The Sun he “admires what Michael Gove and Boris have said about increased funding”.
Background: DfE's problems on school funding
But he added: “I’d be bolder than Boris to make sure we get equal funding per pupil and funding alone is not enough.
"We need a future-focused education to focus on future jobs.”
The newspaper said Mr Hancock's promise represented an extra £400 spent on every primary and secondary school pupil.
The news comes as teachers target parents in a bid to force school funding onto the agenda of a closely-watched parliamentary by-election taking place this week.
Voters in Peterborough are going to the polls to choose a replacement for Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who was removed by a recall petition after being jailed for lying about a speeding offence.
Most media coverage has focused on the impact of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, but the NEU teaching union is using the three days before Thursday’s poll to highlight school funding.
In Peterborough, the NEU has hired an ad van claiming that 62 schools in the city have suffered funding cuts totalling almost £19 million in real terms since 2015.
The van is due to stop at two schools per day, at drop off and pick up time, in order to engage parents and hand out leaflets at the school gates.
It will also visit shopping centres at lunchtimes.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “This is an issue that has had a devastating impact on the education of our children and young people.
“Schools in Peterborough have lost out on an astonishing £19 million in funding since 2015.
“No politician can ignore the implications of this shortfall in funding. The National Education Union is urging all political parties to make education funding a priority.”
Some candidates in the campaign have already raised school funding, or education, as an issue.
Labour Party candidate Lisa Forbes lists “give our children a proper education” among her five pledges, saying that some schools in the city have “lost nearly £500 per pupil under the Tories”.
Conservative candidate Paul Bristow makes schools the fourth point of his six-point plan, with his website saying: “Creating more places for local kids and making sure our schools get the extra support they need.”
Lib Dem candidate Beki Sellick highlighted her party’s pledge to abolish SATs in a BBC interview.
Brexit Party candidate Mike Greene does not mention schools on his campaign website.
A DfE spokesperson said: “This year, under the national funding formula, funding for schools in Peterborough has increased by 2.3 per cent per pupil, compared to 2017-18. This results in an additional £12.5 million for schools in the area, compared to 2017-18.
“While there is more money going into our schools than ever before we know schools face budgeting challenges, which is why we have introduced a wide range of support to help schools reduce costs and get the best value from their resources – from a free-to-use vacancy service to cut the costs of recruiting teachers, to advisors who are providing expert help and support to individual schools that need it.
“The secretary of state has made clear that as we approach the next spending review, he will back head teachers to have the resources they need to deliver a world-class education in the years ahead.”
They are among 15 candidates standing in Thursday’s poll.