Lyla Elkins transferred to North Nicholas High School in Cape Coral, in 2016 with hopes of sailing through its computer-based courses and graduating early. She didn’t realize the for-profit charter school would also be a source of income: a $25 gift card each time she persuaded a new student to enroll.
“I referred almost all of my friends,” said Elkins, 17, who earned three gift cards. She also won a Valentine’s Day teddy bear in a raffle for sharing one of the school’s Facebook posts.
Such incentives are rampant among for-profit operators of public alternative high schools like North Nicholas, which serves students at risk of dropping out. These schools market aggressively to attract new students, especially during weeks when the state is tallying enrollment for funding purposes. They often turn their students into promoters, dangling rewards for plugs on social media, student referrals or online reviews, ProPublica found. Some also offer valuable perks simply for enrolling.