Maryland officials have decided to shift responsibility for educating mentally handicapped children from the state Board of Health and Mental Hygiene to the state Board of Education.

The result apparently will be to shift to public schools about 1,500 mentally handicapped children, a number that Linda Jacobs, assistant, state school superintendent, said "would not throw the system out of kilter."

Some public schools in 13 countries, including Montgomery and Prince George's, already have pilot programs of 660 such children, Jacobs said. She said 87,000 children in a broader category that includes various types of handicap or physical - are already in public schools.

To implement the decision, made by the state health and education departments, the Maryland General Assembly will be asked next January to have the health department's $4.8 million education budget switched to the state Board of Education.

The earliest the money could become available is next July, according to Avrum Shavrick, director of educational services for the board of education.

The children is question are now in state programs designed to teach them how to dress themselves, eat with knives and forks, use money, recognize colors and count. They also learned survival vocabulary such as the words "danger" and "keep out" and job skills like operating simple printing pressed and making nameplates.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygience "has really been trying to do the whole job, said state school Supt. David W. Hornbeck, "and they have been unable to give their full attention to the problem of medical services. In the past, departments were so interested in protecting their interests that what the kids needed became incidental. We hope this policy will create more of an atmosphere of cooperation."

Dr. Neil Solomon, head of the health department, echoed his sentiments. "We in this department are not the best qualified to educate," he said. "The children can get better help elsewhere. And they need to be in the least restrictive environment possible." Solomon said he wanted to see education, including that in state institutional settings, turned over to the department of education.