Rock Hill High and Clover's Oakridge Middle are in the running for big bucks in an online competition intended to draw attention to schools' needs.
Last month, Bing - Microsoft's search engine - invited schools nationwide to post essays detailing what they need but cannot afford.
This week the company will announce 15 finalists, four of whom will split $250,000. The winner gets $100,000. Each finalist gets $50,000.
Tomorrow is the deadline for people to go online and read and rate schools' entries to help give them an edge in the competition, called "Our School Needs." When finalists are announced, users can vote online.
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"It's a wonderful opportunity for us to fund some things we can't afford to do right now," Rock Hill High principal Judy Mobley said.
It's not a bad marketing strategy, either.
"Education is one of the few things that all Americans, at least in principle, support," said David Crockett, a University of South Carolina associate professor of marketing. "If you can find any way to tie your brand to education, it's gold for a company.
As state governments, racked by tax shortfalls, continue to cut money from education, school systems are looking elsewhere for dollars to keep teachers in classrooms and buy essentials. Companies are stepping in to fill the void.
Big Lots recently crowned winners in its "Lots2Give" competition, where people were asked to visit the company's website to vote on videos submitted by schools competing for $100,000. Clorox's "Power a Bright Future" invites voters to click on school programs they believe deserve a $50,000 grand prize.
The Charlotte Jewish Day School recently won $500,000 in Kohl's department store's national Facebook school-improvement contest. Schools had to tell how they would use the winnings, and then get supporters to visit Kohl's Facebook page to vote for their project.
"In principle it operates the same way the old box tops operated," Crockett said. "This is a new spin on an old idea."
Rock Hill High's wish list focuses on technology and includes computer headphones and microphones, money for library books and 20 Nooks - Barnes and Noble's e-reader - which students would check out from the library. The school is asking for extra money for fine arts, which budget cuts have scaled back, and money to pay for needy students to join an organized trip to Europe this summer.
"I tried to include everybody," said French teacher Kristina Holst, who entered the school in Bing's competition.
An Oakridge parent who works for Microsoft told a teacher about the competition, principal Will Largen said. The school wants to build an outdoor learning center. Holst said her students have been spreading the word.
"It is interesting to watch them network," she said. "They say, 'I've updated my Facebook page, and this is my status.'"
Rate your school
To see and rate schools' projects, go to ourschoolneeds.discoverbing.com.
To rate a school, users must create a free Bing account, then log in. To do so, click "Log In" in the top right corner, then "Create Account."
Sunday is the deadline for rating schools. Voting on the finalists begins Friday.