'Here & Now' Highlights: Frederick Melms, Rick Esenberg, Sen. Devin LeMahieu

Here's what guests on the December 8, 2023 episode said about a private school choice program lawsuit filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the state Legislature's work over the year and plans for 2024.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

December 11, 2023

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Two adjacent screenshots show Rick Esenberg and Frederick Melms seated in different locations.

Rick Esenberg and Frederick Melms (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

Petitioners in a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s private school choice program await word from the state Supreme Court whether it will take their case — Attorney Frederick Melms filed the lawsuit and explained why they argue that this program violates the state constitution. Advocates of the school choice program that allows students to attend private schools with publicly funded vouchers are fighting the lawsuit — Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty attorney Rick Esenberg said ending it would create chaos. State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu reflects on the Wisconsin Legislature’s work in 2023 and previews what’s next on the agenda for Republican lawmakers.

Frederick Melms

  • The Minocqua-based lawyer said he filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s Private School Choice Programs in the Wisconsin Supreme Court to bypass years of litigation in the lower courts. The court is still considering whether to take the case. The Evers administration aligned with Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in briefs arguing the case should start in circuit court. Melms argued the program was designed to destructively defund public schools. Nearly $450 million in public funds went to private school vouchers in the 2022-23 school year.
  • Melms: “The state options — when they chose how to fund this program — they chose the one that was most destructive to the traditional public school districts. It’s our contention that this was intentional and it was an intentional effort to defund and ultimately damage public education in Wisconsin.”


Rick Esenberg
Founder and general counsel, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty

  • Supporters of Wisconsin’s taxpayer-funded school choice and independent charter school programs want the state Supreme Court to reject the lawsuit challenging it, saying ending the program would create chaos for tens of thousands of families with students currently enrolled.
  • Esenberg: “It would be chaos for children in the program. First of all, they would be denied an educational opportunity that they and their parents have chosen. There would be a massive influx of students into public schools who are not currently set up to receive them. … It would be really a disaster for the state of Wisconsin and something that I don’t believe our courts are going to do.”


State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu

  • This interview is part of a series of conversations with Wisconsin’s legislative leaders at year’s end. LeMahieu reflected on lawmaking over the past year, highlighting the shared revenue bill for local levels of government, school funding, school choice expansion and the Brewers stadium funding. He also looked ahead at bills key to Republicans in the next year.
  • LeMahieu: “First is the right of first refusal to allow Wisconsin companies the right to build new transmission lines first and keep that work done here in Wisconsin. That’s going to save rate payers money. So, hopefully we can get that. And there’s an electric vehicle charging bill that was just introduced. I think that bill will be vital to expand charging stations around the state of Wisconsin, as there are more and more electric vehicles.”


Watch new episodes of Here & Now at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays.

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