North Carolina’s unemployment rate has dropped dramatically since last summer – from 8.8 percent in June to 6.9 percent in December. Critics of the governor’s decision to exit the federal government’s extended unemployment benefits program claim the drop occurred because the labor force got smaller. The John Locke Foundation’s John Hood looks into that claim and helps make sense of the numbers. Then we turn to education policy. State lawmakers are questioning the value of new Common Core public school standards. You’ll hear a recent exchange between Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, along with reaction from Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation director of research and education studies. Meantime, legislators have focused much of their attention on reforming the K-12 public education system. They have spent less time looking into large-scale reforms for the taxpayer-funded higher education system. Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, discusses the reasons why higher education receives less scrutiny from prospective reformers. That’s followed by a look at fiscal policy. After years of talking about reform, North Carolina lawmakers adopted sweeping changes to the state’s tax system in 2013. Gene Chianelli, finance counsel to N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, discusses the process that led to last year’s historic reforms. And finally, a new resource from the Locke Foundation focuses attention on activities undertaken by cities and counties in the state. It recommends that local officials stick to core services and protect individual freedom. Roy Cordato, the Locke Foundation’s vice president for research, explains what is and isn’t a core service, and the impact local officials can have when they protect individual rights rather than trample on them with big-government policies.