Baltimore is one of five communities selected by the Health and Human Services Department to participate in the pilot. The city will receive $29 million on July 1 to operate the program, about the same as for the current year, Burroughs-Campbell said.

"By encouraging our applicants to consider the needs of children from birth through preschool in their own towns and cities, we are promoting a consistent, tailored approach to ensure that children are developing the skills and tools they need for elementary school all across our nation," Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, director of the Office of Head Start, said last year when the pilot was announced.

Burroughs-Campbell said the Head Start program won't be compensating the city schools for the children it's shifting to the system, but the city and schools have an agreement that the schools will serve the youngsters that Head Start refers to it.

"Finding and targeting the children who need services is something everyone is committed to, all along the trajectory of the system," Burroughs-Campbell said. "We have a shared vision that every baby born in Baltimore who is eligible for services will receive cutting-edge services."

Long-term planning efforts by a continuum of providers identified a gap in services for 3 year olds, Burroughs-Campbell said. By shifting more older children to public schools, Head Start can accommodate more of the younger children, she said.

Children who turn 5 by Sept. 1 go to kindergarten. The 5-year-olds served in Head Start are those who have birthdays after the start of the school year.

City schools spent $32 million to educate 4,800 pre-K students in the current school year, according to spokeswoman Edie House Foster.

City schools expanded pre-K classes with more seats and full-day classes in 2009, and coming up with the money was difficult. But officials say the investment is worth it, based on school readiness benchmarks seen in children coming from the pre-K classes.

To pay for the additional 400 children, Foster said city schools will use a combination of state and federal funds. Districts also can apply for a portion of the $4.3 million that the General Assembly made available this year for pre-K expansion.

"We do not see it as a burden; it could be a challenge, but the benefits far outweigh any challenge," she said. "It is a priority for us, and we will keep reaping the benefits."

ywenger@baltsun.com

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