Utah could be deeply affected if the Bush administration cuts part of the program that compensates school districts for educating children whose parents live or work on untaxed federal property.

The program is based on the fact that local school districts may have to educate large numbers of children whose parents are stationed at a nearby military base. Yet the districts can't levy property taxes on the federal land to help pay for those children. So the federal government makes payments to the school district in lieu of taxes.The administration has suggested that funding for some categories of the impact aid program is not necessary.

Department of Education officials contend that the economic impact of federal activities like military installations offsets the extra costs school district incur when educating such students.

While that argument might make sense in someplace like Montgomery County, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C., it does not make any sense in most of the 23 school districts in Utah that receive impact aid. Those districts rely heavily on the federal funding they receive.

Figures for 1987, the most current available, show Utah schools received $8.5 million through the program. Davis District receives about 2 percent of its annual budget from the program because 23 percent of its pupils are "federally connected." Many parents in the district are employed at Hill Air Force Base.

Tooele School District gets about 4 percent of its total operating budget from impact aid. That is in a district where 49 percent of the students have parents who work for the federal government, live on federal land or both. Michael Jacobsen, Tooele District superintendent, says his district gets 15 cents on the dollar of what it could if Tooele Army Depot and Dugway Proving Grounds land and industry were on the tax rolls.

Utah's congressional delegation has done an admirable job in the past fighting proposed cuts to the program. They should continue those efforts. They should also make sure that formulas for impact aid funding aren't giving some districts more than deserve while penalizing other districts, particularly those in the West.