A retired professional wrestler from Miami is poised to prove that innovation and compassion are worthy opponents to a court battle playing out in West Virginia over one of the nation’s most expansive education saving accounts programs.
Longtime youth advocate and undefeated professional mixed martial arts fighter Daniel Puder, who owns private schools in Florida and serves as president for brand-new Montgomery Preparatory Academy in the West Virginia suburb of Montgomery, has pledged to cover tuition for 25 students who had expected to receive Hope Scholarships before a circuit judge ruled the new program unconstitutional.
“This injunction saddens me, and our team is committed to supporting the families of West Virginia,” Puder said in a news release issued by the school.
Describing the injunction as “an obstacle,” the release states that if carried out, the ruling will negatively affect the education of thousands of West Virginia youths.
“Daniel Puder is determined to change the system and create an option that best serves students and families,” the release continues. “This scholarship is providing great hope for families, and we are committed to the future of education in the great state of West Virginia. We will be opening the doors of Montgomery Prep Academy with or without the Hope Scholarship funding.”
Puder realizes the 25 scholarships he’s making available fall far short of helping all 3,000 students who were offered assistance when the program first became law. But Puder told MMA News, an online outlet from the world of mixed martial arts, he is using all the assets he can to help.
“Does it cost us money? Sure. It’s going to cost us anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 this year,” Puder said. “It’s going to be expensive. But why? I wish I had (this) when I was a kid and had a challenge like some of these other kids are going through.”
The reprieve has 16-year-old Jason Criner literally jumping for joy.
“This will change everything about my schooling,” said Jason, who had been approved for a scholarship. A solid B and C student, Jason, along with many of his classmates, often were left to fend for themselves at their district school during the height of the pandemic when teachers were absent.
Jason’s mother, Jamie, couldn’t be happier with Puder’s generosity.
“Jason stayed in school, but the majority of the time had nothing to do,” she said. “The only classes he consistently had were JROTC and band. Eventually, he knew his teachers weren’t going to be there, so he just went in late.”
On the verge of dropping out despite his desire to pursue a technical education path, Jason is excited that Montgomery Prep will allow him to fulfill his dream of becoming a diesel mechanic or underwater welder.
“My (former) school made me feel like a nothing, and this has given me hope to continue my goals,” he said.
Puder isn’t alone in his desire to provide a ray of hope in a difficult situation. Vandalia Community School, a privately owned microschool in Charleston, has pledged to cover the amount of the scholarship to offset tuition for families who had been impacted by the judge’s ruling.
Longtime education choice advocate Jamie Buckland, a consultant for West Virginia Families United for Education who has been working to raise awareness of the new Hope Scholarship program, praised Puder and Vandalia for their willingness to help families affected by the ruling.
“Offering these scholarships demonstrates Daniel and his team see this for what it is, a fight to transform K-12 education in the Mountain State,” said Buckland, who homeschools her four children. “We are so thankful to be allies with the folks from MPA and with leaders from Vandalia Community School in Charleston, West Virginia, who are offering similar relief for families.”