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Hometown credit

House Democrats declared few victories in their recent attempts to amend a Republican tax bill.

But a Maryland congressman won over his colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee with a tax-credit plan that would help parents pay for tutors and provide a nice boost for a hometown company.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., proposed a tax credit for families who pay for tutoring services approved by the same agencies that accredit K-12 schools. Parents could subtract up to half the cost of such instruction, with the maximum benefit reaching $150 a year. And, as parents benefitted, so might the Baltimore-based Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc., which offers such services in 650 "learning centers" throughout the country.

An aide to Mr. Cardin acknowledged that Sylvan would fetch some of the $252 million that congressional accountants estimate the government would lose in tax revenue over the next five years.

But the impetus for the amendment was to prepare students so they will be ready to take advantage of college-tuition tax breaks offered in other sections of the bill, the aide said. That argument won over GOP members, according to the aide.

Mr. Cardin can consider himself lucky. The Republican majority turned away almost every other Democratic amendment in a marathon hearing that ended early June 13.

Inefficient efficiency

Federal agencies are required to write a strategic plan and file it with Congress by Sept. 30. In its rough draft, the Department of Education has identified the high number of student-loan defaults as the issue most in need of the agency's attention.

Rightly so, says the Congressional Institute, a Washington nonprofit organization that's tracking the process. But the institute says the department's proposal to improve management and quality doesn't spell out what will be done differently to increase collections.

"From a management perspective, it looks like there's an obstacle here," said Carl DeMaio, the institute's director of planning and training. Mr DeMaio suggested that the department first look for the reasons behind the defaults.

--DAVID J. HOFF[email protected]

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