The State Board of Education will be asking the Legislature to enhance the state's basic public education budget by 15 percent or an additional $142.9 million this coming January.

While this may bring cries of protest from already burdened taxpayers, it is not entirely unreasonable. The final figure passed by lawmakers may be less, but funding for schools must be strengthened.The additional building blocks would bring next year's public school budget to $925.9 million if all requests are honored. It is money that is badly needed.

Student population growth, crowded classrooms, special education needs, teacher salaries and more equitable revenue sharing between rich and poor school districts are at the heart of the request.

Growth in the student population continues to be a major concern. Some 2,100 new students are expected next year at an additional cost of $13.8 million. While the rate of growth has been declining in recent years, more pupils ate still flooding into the system. The student population is not expected to peak until 1993.

The board proposals seek another $89.7 million to offset the effects of an estimated 5.8 percent inflation rate and to boost the weighted pupil unit - the basic per-child state contribution to education - by 2 percent.

That boost would translate into raises of $950 per teacher to bring Utah closer to the average teacher salaries paid in the Mountain States area.

Several proposed increases related to a finance study that is still under way are included in the plan. The study is expected to suggest several changes in school financing formulas and methods to redistribute tax income among the school districts.

The board hopes to convince legislators to add $5.7 million to the special education budget. Officials say this will not meet all the needs in this category but it will close the gap between actual spending and demand by about one-third.

Federal law mandates that school districts serve children with special needs. State funding has fallen well short of demand leaving local districts scrambling to make up the difference.

The board is also seeking another $6.7 million to shore up career-ladder funds and another $5 million to upgrade school library and media center services.

It is indeed an ambitious request, one that will stir much debate on Capitol Hill, in the schools and in various public forums.

But it is not an unreasonable request considering the fact that education remains one of the best investments available to state government.

Providing a well educated and trained population is an incentive for economic development. It reduces dependence on welfare and other public assistance programs and it provides an on-going source of state revenue, namely, the taxes paid by an educated and hard-working public.