A visit to the campus of the just over 160-student school district shows why. Behind the 1930s-era faade of the Blackwell school building 30 miles south of Sweetwater looms a distinctly 21st-century sight: a wind turbine. Energy development capitalizing on the high winds in the area - which quickly turned sunshine to chill rain one afternoon in late October - has injected sluggish rural communities with new economic lifeblood. More than one local resident has called it the "windfall," and it has bestowed hundreds of millions of dollars on West Texas schools.
By the 2018-19 school year, Gott's district will have received about $35 million from a deal it brokered with a wind farm company in 2005. On the school grounds, $15 million from a combination of bond and wind farm revenue has paid for a new football stadium and academic complex attached to the original school building. About $28 million sits in a foundation earmarked for scholarships; graduates receive $3,000 for each year they have spent in the district, which they can put toward any type of professional advancement, from a beauty school certificate to a bachelor's degree. The influx of wealth has also enabled the district to buy an iPad for every student, starting in the seventh grade.
"What I wanted is, if you grew up in a town of 350 people in West Texas, that should not work against you," Gott said. "We can send you to Harvard, we can send you to Baylor, we can send you to Texas Tech - we can send you anywhere because we have the pathway to get there."
About 69 districts across Texas - mostly rural, tiny schools - continue to benefit from a now extinct quirk in the state's school finance law that has led to what some consider an embarrassment of riches. How they spend the money, and the results they achieve with it, however, could be a valuable experiment in innovation in public education.
The money comes from a Chapter 313 agreement, which allows districts to offer breaks on property taxes for select manufacturing, technology and renewable-energy projects as part of the Texas Economic Development Act, which the Legislature passed in 2001. The law allowed districts to cap property appraisals so that businesses paid taxes on less than the full value of the property while the state largely offsets their resulting revenue loss.
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