Derek Cantù | WGLT

Derek Cantù

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Beginning February 27, Illinois residents who live in the 217 area code will 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 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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

Illinois lawmakers spent much of their weekend session debating criminal justice reform bills.

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus is using the lame-duck session to address a range of social equity issues, from healthcare to education to criminal justice.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is teaming up with the FBI to investigate a spate of fraudulent unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  

GOP lawmakers are again demanding answers from Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Employment Securities over the state’s processing of unemployment benefits. 

Every decade, the year after a Census, state lawmakers are tasked with adopting new legislative maps for Illinois, which can shift the balance of power in certain areas with demographic changes.

  Illinois House Republicans say they’re still waiting on Gov. JB Pritzker to propose specific spending cuts to the state’s current year state budget, which is $4 billion out of balance.