Editorial: Congratulations to Illinois’ newest teacher of the year, coming to us direct from Idaho

Karen Lauritzen is the reigning “Teacher of the Year” for Idaho, but she recently left her job at an elementary school in the land of potatoes for a friendlier environment.

Illinois.

Shortly after receiving the top teacher honor for 2023, Lauritzen became the target of far-right activists who noted her support of gay rights and Black Lives Matter on her personal social media accounts. Abuse followed, not only from strangers but also from parents of her fourth-grade students, including one who cited a lesson she taught about the United Nations as evidence of left-wing indoctrination.

Lauritzen moved over the summer to a college downstate where she teaches budding educators, and the change has been good, she said in an interview. One big difference is the state’s culturally responsive teaching standards, she said, which help teachers better reach their students. And she marveled about how her teenage son’s new high school offers a diversity seminar that Idaho would have shunned.

“It’s like heaven here,” she said.

A little slice of heaven may not be the first thought that springs to mind among longtime Illinois residents. But Illinois does stand to benefit from a brain drain as deep-red states push culture war attacks.

From Idaho to Florida, life has become increasingly hostile for a range of talented people, from LGBTQ residents to ace teachers like Lauritzen, as well as physicians facing potential criminal charges due to abortion bans and even librarians accused of harboring inappropriate books.

Illinois, meantime, has doubled down on efforts to lure refugees from red states. Tony Sanders, state superintendent of education, recently published an “open invitation” addressing teachers who believe their freedom and professional judgment is under attack in Florida and Texas, saying, “Come to Illinois. We’re hiring, and we’d love to have you.”

To an extent, this phenomenon is good for Illinois. As this page has noted repeatedly over the years, Illinois suffers when productive residents move out at a greater rate than they move in, a long-term demographic pattern that worsened during the pandemic.

Reversing that pattern would be a plus.

But here’s the rub: While Illinois is known as a deep-blue state, favoring Democrats and progressive interests by a wide margin, anyone looking at a map showing the politics of the state’s 102 counties might be surprised at just how much red they see. .

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker handily beat one-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2018, he lost 86 of those 102 counties. In the 2020 election, President Joe Biden won Illinois by a lopsided margin, but the map of the state still looked overwhelmingly red, with some downstate counties going 90% or better for ex-President Donald Trump.

Most of those deep-red counties are sparsely populated, which explains how Pritzker and Biden won in routs. But it also demonstrates something Pritzker evidently has forgotten: Illinois is a deeply divided state, and the governor needs to govern all of it, not just the blue enclaves.

During a speech at the Illinois State Fair this month, Pritzker vented about the GOP: “Republicans think that if they lie about something often enough, if they deny the truth long enough, maybe we will start to believe their lies. The problem is this: Here in Illinois, we have a low tolerance for bulls**t.”

Pritzker’s low tolerance for bulls---t sounds very much like a low tolerance for conservatives. And you’ve got to hand it to Illinois House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, who took her turn at the State Fair podium after Pritzker’s broadside, saying, “Democrats’ tolerance for bulls---t might be low, but their tolerance for corruption is apparently sky high.” She spoke just days before a federal jury in Chicago convicted Tim Mapes, chief of staff to then-Speaker Mike Madigan, long the state’s most powerful Democrat.

For Illinois to thrive, its leaders must embrace tolerance, not partisan attacks that further divide our population. Consider how an Illinois Teacher of the Year would fare if she was a MAGA Republican. Most likely, she too would face inflammatory and false attacks, as Lauritzen did?

If that happened, it would be to Illinois’ shame if its top officials failed to offer support, as Idaho’s failed to support Lauritzen.

Local legislators refused to even meet with her, she said. In an editorial, the Idaho Statesman rightly blasted cowardly public officials from Idaho Gov. Brad Little on down who “have absolutely nothing to say when doctors, librarians and educators are driven from the state.”

Lauritzen said she is encouraged by the relatively tolerant environment in her new Illinois hometown. Some neighbors display Trump flags or anti-Pritzker signs, she said, but “I haven’t seen anything overtly hateful, and that’s good.”

She also notes, accurately, that bringing out the best in school kids should be a “completely nonpartisan” exercise. “I really think if legislators listen to educators, that if our expertise is honored and respected, and we are stakeholders in the process and given a seat at the table, I believe we can improve education not just in Illinois but in our country.”

Amen to that. Teacher of the Year, your new state welcomes you

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