LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Students in Doña Ana County are getting opportunities they've never had before. It's all thanks to millions of dollars generated by Spaceport America.
It's been six years since voters approved a gross-receipts tax for the spaceport. School districts in the county are putting a portion of that money to good use.
"This program has opened a lot of doors. One of the main things this program does is, it allows you to network with a lot of people," said Joel Cazares, a civil engineering freshman at New Mexico State University.
The county's three school districts gave their annual report at the county commission meeting on Wednesday.
Each district is getting hundreds of thousands of dollars. Officials are using that money to give students access to STEM programs -- involving science, technology, engineering and math.
"The spaceport funding allowed us to compete at the NMSU level and the Texas level. At the NMSU level, we won second overall out of 34 teams, which was very impressive. We advanced to the regional competition in Dallas, Texas, where we won fourth out of 60 teams. Trust me, those institutes of technology do not like public schools winning," said Devon Garland, a sophomore at Hatch High School.
"Can you imagine New Mexico placing fourth in a national competition? That's remarkable. That's what kids deserve. That's what we all strive to make happen," said Stan Rounds, the superintendent of Las Cruces Public Schools.
The Hatch School District gets $65,000 a year. Gadsden has gotten almost $3 million in the last four and a half years. Las Cruces Public Schools got just under $1.2 million last year.
"This is public tax money that came out of public support for the spaceport. I think it's very important that this is giving back to the public in a sense for the future. I just want everybody to feel good about this," said Billy Garrett, the chairman for the Dona Ana County Board of Commissioners.
Rounds said improving STEM programs has some major benefits for students. In his district, he said, more students are passing Algebra I and enrolling in advanced-placement courses.