HARRISBURG -- A Senate bill that would ensure that school districts quickly reimburse each other for certain regular education and special-education costs passed Sunday and now heads to the House.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman, R-19th, of West Whiteland, said he joined Senate Republicans on Sunday in passing the legislation designed to protect local taxpayers.

Dinniman and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9th, of Chester, Sen. Edwin "Ted" Erickson, R-26th, of Chestnut Hill, and Sen. John Rafferty, R-44th, of Collegeville, were among those who voted for Senate Bill 1397, which ensures that school districts quickly reimburse each other for certain regular education and special education costs.

The Devereux Foundation and four local school districts -- West Chester, Great Valley, Tredyffrin/Easttown and Downingtown -- are seeking reimbursement of more than $4.5 million owed to them by the Philadelphia School District. More than $2 million of the outstanding debt dates from between 2003 and 2007.

"Our local school districts, the Devereux Foundation and the Chester County Intermediate Unit, have had to wait far too long for the money owed; money that belongs to the taxpayers of these four districts," Dinniman said after the vote. "By passing Senate Bill 1397, we are not only strengthening our bargaining position in regard to the current debt owed but also doing everything we can to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Senate Bill 1397 is now before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Over the years, the Devereux Foundation has provided special-education services to students from Philadelphia on behalf of four school districts in Chester County -- Downingtown Area, Great Valley, Tredyffrin/Easttown and West Chester Area. In March, the School District of Philadelphia owed more than $5.3 million to these four Devereux facilities.

The Chester County school districts are required to pay the costs of educating the Philadelphia students up front then pursue the reimbursements. The claim for reimbursement was made by the Chester County Intermediate Unit, which acts as the school districts' bill-collecting agent. And under an agreement with the intermediate unit, Devereux had paid the costs directly but can no longer afford to do so.

Since earlier this spring, the intermediate unit has received $1,475,000 in reimbursements from Philadelphia, according to Joseph O'Brien, the intermediate unit's executive director.

O'Brien said the intermediate unit and Philadelphia are collaborating to resolve the rest of the billing issue.

The new legislation would clarify how sending school districts statewide pay for rehabilitative services elsewhere. It would also require the state to withhold any unpaid amounts from a home school district's annual state subsidy.

"Under current law, students may be placed in rehabilitative institutions outside of their school districts of residence if circumstances warrant such placements," states a memo Erickson wrote to other legislators. "In such cases, the school district in which the student resides is obligated to pay for these services.

"Typically, the school district in which a rehabilitative institution is located, contracted with an institution and acts as a pass-through for these funds," the memo continues. "However, many school districts with resident students enrolled in such institutions fail to make payments as required."

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