As the Legislature grapples with numerous and diverse funding requests, it should not short-change the arts, especially since three of the major arts groups - the Utah Opera Co., Ballet West and the Utah Symphony - perform regularly in the state's school districts at considerable expense to themselves.

Over a period of three to five years, these talented artists and musicians make appearances in every school district in the state.Last year, they performed in 259 concerts before 193,00 schoolchildren, a notable accomplishment that allows Utah's young people to become acquainted with some of the Mountain West's most important cultural resources.

Yet last year the Legislature cut the formerly 100 percent-funded school programs to only 44 percent state support, leaving the hard-pressed symphony, ballet and opera to make up the difference out of their own nearly-empty pockets.

Although the reasons for this are in part due to inflation, it is a serious deficiency that is placing all such school programs in jeopardy, and could even generate a loss of artistic quality.

Despite the fact that it costs $800,000 a year to sustain these admirable programs, Gov. Norm Bangerter has requested only $560,000 for school programs in his latest budget.

There are other sources, such as the economic development supplemental budget, that the Legislature could draw on in order to bring the amount up to the necessary $800,000.

Lawmakers should work very hard to do so.

Salt Lake City is unique among Western cities in having many arts organizations of recognized superior quality. Even though they are larger cities, Denver and Phoenix, for instance, do not offer comparable arts groups.

Strengthening and stabilizing the arts should not only be regarded as a high priority, but in a practical sense, it enhances and supports the state's economic development. It is a solid investment in Utah's future.