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Hillary Back 'Home' In NYC

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, echoing one of her husband's favorite education themes, said Thursday U.S. public schools must no longer allow children to advance a grade without the required skills.

In her first visit to New York City since confirming she will form a committee to explore whether to run for a U.S. Senate seat from New York in 2000, Mrs. Clinton said the practice known as "social promotion" must end.

She said that while state education authorities must work to stop the practice, they also must ensure that children who are left back get extra help, such as after-school programs, to advance. "You just can't punish these kids for not having learned what they need to learn," the first lady told reporters during a brief, impromptu news conference after an event at a school in East Harlem. "You can't commit education fraud."

During his State of the Union address in January, President Clinton touched on the issue of social promotion, saying that "we do our children no favors when we allow them to pass from grade to grade without mastering the material."

Earlier this year New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew asked the city for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional aid, part of which would go to summer-school programs aimed at ending social promotion in city public schools.

Mrs. Clinton made no reference to her possible campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Daniel Moynihan, who is retiring. But she acted like a candidate when she crossed 104th Street in East Harlem to greet residents. People in the crowd gathered at the entrance to P.S. 72, where the event sponsored by cable television music channel VH1 and Time Warner Cable of New York took place, shouted "Go, Hillary, go!"

"She's intelligent, she has no fear and she stood by her man," said Jacqueline Benjamin, a mother of two, when asked why she wanted the first lady to run.

Mrs. Clinton, who brought cymbals to add to the slew of musical instruments gathered for donation on the school auditorium's stage, said in her speech: "I'd rather have young people in a gang called a band than any other gang."

In a reference to cuts in public school programs, she added: "We have to rebuild the structure of support that was torn down, not only here, but in many places" in the country.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Clinton said she and her husband have not purchased or rented any property in New York, contrary to speculation that she and the president will live in Manhattan or in its northern suburbs of Westchester County if she decides to run for the Senate. "I'm going around collecting offers of people's guest rooms and extra beds and pull-out couches," she said.

Also Thursday, the first lady announced she was postponing a trip to Israel scheduled for later this month because Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak is still trying to form a government, her office said. A statement fom her office said the trip was being postponed on the advice of the State Department and that it would be rescheduled as soon as possible.

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