Derek Cantù

Statehouse Reporting Intern

Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session. 


Derek earned a B.S. in History and Secondary Education from Bradley University and an M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction from Kansas State University.


Derek has previous experience working as a James H. Dunn fellow (education policy analyst), a high school social studies teacher, and a Fulbright fellow in the Slovak Republic. 

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Susana Mendoza / Facebook

Illinois has reduced its bill backlog to just under $4 billion — a far cry from the nearly $17 billion high seen just after the state’s two-year budget impasse presided over by former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

But the state’s top financial officer, Comptroller Susana Mendoza, said now is not the time to become complacent.

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Elder care advocates are urging state lawmakers to reduce the number of Illinoisans receiving long-term care at nursing homes after a study showing many of Illinois’ early COVID-19 deaths occurred at facilities that were both overcrowded and understaffed.

Derek Cantù/ NPR Illinois

More than half of Illinois’ largest cities have severely underfunded pension funds, according to a new report from libertarian-leaning group Wirepoints.

Gabriel Rosenberg/ NPR

Since the beginning of mass-marketed video games in the 1970s, players would go to the store to buy a game like Pong, Super Mario Brothers or Call of Duty, contained on a cartridge or disc.

But in the last several years, video games have moved their games online, charging gamers for downloads -- and additional downloadable content.

Black and Brown Illinoisans in long-term care facilities died of COVID-19 at comparatively higher rates compared to white Illinoisans in the first few months of the pandemic.

Wikimedia commons

Illinoisans convicted of a drug felony would still be able to access cash welfare assistance under a measure approved by the Illinois House last week.

The proposal marks the fifth attempt State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) has made to open Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare benefits for Illinoisans with drug felony records. But last week’s vote was the first time the idea actually passed out of the House.

Courtesy of School District U-46

Illinois Lawmakers are advancing a proposal that nixes the mandate on student teachers to film themselves in the classroom as part of their evaluation for teacher licensure.

The Period Blog

Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly are pushing a measure that would require schools to provide free menstruation products in both girls’ and boys’ bathrooms for grades 4 through 12.

Advocates of the proposal argue it would allow for transgender students who also menstruate to be able to access needed resources.

Flickr user: Matt Turner

When Democrats in the Illinois House voted in a new Speaker in January, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were optimistic a new era would follow.

But three months later, Republicans claim they’re still being treated unfairly by Democrats who hold supermajorities in both the Illinois House and Senate.

Rafal Gerszak/ NPR

Americans have responded to drug addiction in a number of different ways in recent decades. The War on Drugs of the 1980s and 90s spawned mass incarceration of Black and Brown populations. Some addicts, many of whom have some measure of wealth and privilege, are sent to rehab.

graduation ceremony
WOSU Public Media / flickr

A number of universities in Illinois didn’t require standardized test scores when students applied for the upcoming fall semester given the disruption COVID-19 had on high schools.

One state lawmaker is looking to extend this policy indefinitely for all public universities throughout the state.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Democratic state lawmakers are pushing to make permanent many of the voting options Illinois piloted for the 2020 General Election last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Illinois House last week approved extending the use of ballot drop boxes and curbside voting indefinitely. However, critics said the proposal could lead to election security issues.

UIS Community Garden Facebook Page

Elmhurst resident Nicole Virgil got into home gardening after researching the industrial food process and watching documentaries like “Food Inc.”

But after she and her husband set up a homemade hoop house in her backyard to protect her vegetable garden during the winter, she received multiple citations from the city for violating local building codes.


For millions of students in Illinois, attending school a year into the COVID-19 pandemic still means logging onto a computer or completing assignment packets. Though some students have adjusted well, many others have not had an easy time learning over the past year.

But while the federal government granted Illinois’ request to waive standardized tests last spring, President Joe Biden’s administration rejected the state’s bid this year.

Some state lawmakers are pushing back on the mandate and petitioning the federal government to reconsider.

VictorBjorkund / Flickr

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a renewed focus on mental health issues, particularly among students. Some Illinois lawmakers say schools must bolster suicide prevention procedures to better identify warning signs.


Some Democratic Illinois lawmakers want to adopt more comprehensive sex education standards for K-12 schools to ensure students have a firm understanding of the importance of consent, the consequences of sharing underage sexually explicit material, and knowing when an action is considered sexual abuse.

npr illinois

Illinois has long held the record for the most units of local government in any state — 8,923 local taxing bodies to be exact, according to a recent report by the Chicago-based Civic Federation.


Gov. JB Pritzker on Thursday announced $11 million in new infrastructure funding aimed at spurring economic development in underserved areas.

Illinois residents who live in the 217 area code now need to dial a full 10-digit number when making local calls. The area code encompasses Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, and Quincy, and other parts of Central Illinois.

The change in dialing requirements corresponds with a new 447 area code being overlaid in the region on March 27.


In a visit to Springfield Tuesday, Gov. JB Pritzker announced forthcoming state aid for local governments struggling with rising natural gas prices and help for students and families struggling with food insecurity.

Illinois Housing Development Authority

Illinois housing officials are touting the success of their programs helping families hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, the Illinois Housing Development Authority reported that in 2020 it dispersed around $325 million in rent and mortgage assistance grants to more than 56,000 households.

School desks
Flickr user: dcJohn

For the second year in a row, the Illinois State Board of Education is seeking a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for standardized tests normally given during schools’ spring semester.

ACLU of Illinois

Decades of tough-on-crime policies have begun to give way in recent years to conversations about alternatives to incarceration.

State lawmakers on Tuesday heard from advocates who say interventions that get at the roots of crime, like mental health and poverty, can be more effective at reducing crime.

Capitol in fog
Amanda Vinicky / NPR Illinois

Ahead of Gov. JB Pritzker’s budget address next week, Republican lawmakers are calling on his administration to preserve tax credits for businesses — especially ones Pritzker himself helped negotiate during his first year in office. 

Hannah Meisel/NPR Illinois

Democratic lawmakers are again re-introducing the so-called Clean Energy Jobs Act, renewing the effort for comprehensive legislation to address both climate change and expanding Illinois’ renewable energy industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying recession have revealed disparities in health and financial stability everywhere in Illinois, and seniors citizens are no exception.


Faculty, staff and other advocates for Illinois colleges and universities are asking Gov. JB Pritzker to allow higher education employees to receive COVID-19 vaccines during the state’s current phase of vaccine rollout.

Illinois has been in Phase 1b of its vaccination campaign for nearly two weeks, but the frontline essential workers currently eligible for COVID vaccines only include teachers and staff at pre-K through 12 schools.

voting booths
flickr/ Mortimer62

Republican state lawmakers — who are in the super-minority in the state legislature —introduced a package of election-focused bills aimed at making it easier for citizens to be involved in revising the state’s constitution, repealing legislation, and removing public officials from office.

Justin Fowler/State Journal-Register via AP

Some members of the Illinois State Board of Education are voicing concerns that the state will soon adopt high school graduation requirements too burdensome for schools to enforce.

ISBE members made their comments during an ISBE board meeting Wednesday, one week after the General Assembly passed an omnibus education bill pushed for by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which included the new requirements.

Photo via Pixabay

Certain regions in Illinois will be allowed to transition to less restrictive COVID-19 measures beginning Friday. But that doesn’t mean restaurants and bars will be allowed to resume indoor service, despite another public call for reopening from the restaurant industry Thursday.