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Daystarter: Mueller report release spirals into political battle; NFL schedule makers made the Bucs' road hardest; why are so many children struggling to read in Hillsborough school?

Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and developments.
Published Apr. 18

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.

• Enjoy the nice weather while it lasts. It'll be in the mid 60s when everyone wakes up to mostly sunny skies, according to the National Weather Service. Highs will reach the upper 80s. But the winds will pick up and the clouds will start to appear in the evening, when it cools back down to the 60s. After midnight the first of many rain systems start to roll into the bay area, setting the stage for a very wet Friday.

• It costs money to produce quality journalism. Please support the Tampa Bay Times by buying a digital subscription to Florida's best newspaper and its redesigned website tampabay.com.

• Here are the top things to do today in Tampa Bay including shows by Santana and Leon Bridges and the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival gets under way.

• Attorney General William Barr will hold a 9:30 a.m. news conference to present his interpretation of the Mueller report's findings about Russian election interference and Trump's campaign, before providing redacted copies to Congress and the public. After nearly two years of waiting, America will get some answers straight from Robert Mueller— but not before President Donald Trump's attorney general has his say.

• Still recovering from the stunning end to the Lightning's season? This sure won't help: Rick Stroud reports that the NFL has handed the Bucs another cruel twist of fate. New coach Bruce Arians' team will go seven weeks without playing a home game this upcoming season. That's right. The Bucs will play the Giants on Sept. 22 at Raymond James Stadium. But Tampa Bay won't return home for seven weeks, not until the Nov. 10 home against visiting Arizona. And no, that Oct. 13 "home" game against the Panthers in London doesn't count.

Here's a breakdown of the Bucs' 2019 schedule.

• Tens of thousands of Hillsborough school kids struggle to read, according to state testing data. Despite mountains of research and years of trial and error. Despite well-intentioned programs and millions of dollars spent. Only half the Hillsborough students who took the state's reading test last spring passed it. Nearly a fourth scored in the lowest possible range, Level 1. It's a problem that every school district in Florida has, but education reporter Marlene Sokol writes that no district has more schools on Florida's "persistently low-performing" list than Hillsborough.

• Who gets to decide if teachers in a school can be armed? Emily Mahoney reports that the Florida Senate adopted a major amendment that could settle one of the biggest lingering questions of this debate in Tallahassee.

• The University of South Florida's Tampa campus is the least safe college campus in Florida, according to a recent ranking. But Elizabeth Djinis reports that USF's police chief is pushing back against the study's methodology and raising questions about its accuracy.

• A proposal to ask Florida voters whether they want to impose term limits on school board members lost some momentum Wednesday. Jeffrey Solochek reports that the state Senate Rules Committee postponed its vote on the measure just moments before its sponsor was set to make closing remarks seeking support.

• For the latest education coverage, make sure to read The Gradebook. And check out the Gradebook podcast as education reporter Jeffrey Solochek leads a weekly discussion about Florida education.

• A set of bills that would ban some forms of fracking in Florida have likely stalled out in the Legislature. Samantha J. Gross reports that this development has left environmentalists discouraged and petroleum industry representatives hopeful.

• It still has a long way to go, but lawmakers in both the House and Senate are negotiating sweeping changes to Florida's criminal justice system. Emily Mahoney reports that negotiations might be a possible sign of an impending breakthrough on the issue that has struggled to pass in prior years, which may signal the end of Florida's "tough on crime" era.

• Though it faced a near death in the Senate Rules Committee, a contentious bill aimed at banning so-called "sanctuary cities" is headed to the Senate floor. Samantha J. Gross reports that it was a Thonotosassa Republican, state Sen. Tom Lee, who voted to save the bill Wednesday after meeting immigrant advocates that morning.

• The Florida Legislature is in session. The Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau has the latest coverage from the state capital at the The Buzz.

• In just days, all the mailers and TV ads in an increasingly fact-free mayoral race will end in Tampa. In the meantime, David Straz launched a new line of attack Wednesday against frontrunner Jane Castor saying she "can't be trusted" because of corporate and establishment donations to her campaign. But Charlie Frago reports that another claim in that ad, that Straz will not accept any contributions over $500, just isn't true. In reality, Straz has collected at least 12 pledges over $500, breaking his own campaign promise.

• The Tampa mayor's race is headed down the stretch. Click here for full coverage of the race and follow Tampa city hall reporter Charlie Frago on Twitter for the latest developments.

• Seven years ago, Florida lawmakers gave the state transportation department a mission: hire a company to take over tolls and customer service calls for the four turnpike authorities. But the company the state hired — Conduent State & Local Solutions — got too lucky, competitors alleged. Now, how and why Florida decided to hire Conduent is now the subject of an investigation by the state's chief inspector general and questioning by lawmakers, who were barraged with angry calls last summer about Conduent.

• A group of property owners and developers in St. Petersburg say a plan that includes promoting independently owned businesses and preservation of historic buildings along parts of Beach Drive and Central Avenue still needs work. The plan, which encompasses Beach Drive from Fifth Avenue N to First Avenue S and Central Avenue to 31st Street, also includes maintaining pedestrian-friendly streetscapes.

• The heartache of the devastating fire that roared through centuries-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has inspired a widespread outpouring of support in the form of money and prayers offered during Christianity's holiest week to help rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral and comfort the people of France.

• The 7-story hotel Midtown Tampa developers will start to build this summer will be a dual-branded Aloft and Element property. Richard Danielson reports that it will have 226 rooms and a rooftop terrace, pool and lounge designed to appeal to locals as much as to out-of-towners.

• Check out the Times online Business page for the latest on the economy, jobs, real estate, retail and workplace culture.

• The Times online Arts and Entertainment page tells you everything you need to know about what to do, see, eat and experience around town.

• Before he takes the stage in Clearwater on Saturday, we talked to comedian and actor Ken Jeong about returning to stand-up after becoming known for scene-stealing roles in the Hangover movies and Crazy Rich Asians.

• Ready for Easter? We have a lot to choose from here from fun family events and parties to services and plays to mark the holiest week of the year for Christians. And from our food editor, try these classic Italian cookies for Easter. It is a good recipe for children to help with, and they store well.

• Read the Tampa Bay Times online Sports page with the latest news about the Lightning, Bucs, Rays, Bulls, Gators, Noles and high school sports. Times sportswriter Rick Stroud has the latest reaction and analysis from the whole team via our Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast.

• There were no helpful answers, no thoughtful explanations, and really not a lot of words after the Lightning dropped Game 4 of its first-round NHL series on Tuesday night. Diana C. Nearhos reports that Tampa Bay's players and coaches were just as stunned and at a loss over what happened as anybody else was.

• What a rip-off. Columnist Martin Fennelly writes that after winning a record-tying 62 wins, after producing a season that Tampa Bay fans couldn't take their eyes off of, now those same fans will never be able to trust this Lightning team again. This will stay with fans for a long time, and it will be a long time before those same fans can trust this team again.

• If the pain isn't quite bad enough already, Mari Faiello put together a list of the five worst moments in Lightning playoff history. Guess which series was No. 1?

• What's the national media saying about the team that tied a regular-season record with 62 wins and then got swept out of the first-round of the playoffs in one of the greatest crash-and-burns in professional sports history? Click here if you want to keep torturing yourself.

• Where does Tampa Bay go from here? Find out how the team will pick up the piece and follow beat writers Diana C. Nearhos at @dianacnearhos and Mari Faiello at @faiello_mari.

• Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning's historic season ends without a playoff victory.

• The Rays entered Wednesday with a majors' best 13-4 record. Last year, they opened the season 4-13. Eduardo A. Encina writes about how Tampa Bay flipped the script from last year's early-season stumble. T

• Get the latest Rays' news from Marc Topkin and follow him throughout baseball season on @Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

Pinellas County's all-time leading passer set receiving records at Auburn and is projected to be a late-round pick. Lakewood High has never been extremely dominant outside of Pinellas County in football. Since the school opened in 1966, the Spartans have played in a state semifinal just once.

• The Bucs have a new head coach and the NFL draft is almost here. Keep up with the latest offseason changes by following the Times' Bucs page which is just a click away at tampabay.com. For the latest team news on @Twitter, follow Rick Stroud at @NFLSTROUD and fellow beat writer Eduardo A. Encina at @EddieInTheYard.

• All the Bulls news you can use is right here from Times beat writer Joey Knight. Follow him on Twitter for the latest at @TBTimes_Bulls.

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