MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -- As President Barack Obama looks to the future, education becomes a growing concern.
In Tuesday's State of the Union address, Obama said he wants to continue the "Race to the Top" program -- a way for states to compete for federal grant money.
"If you show us the plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we'll show you the money," Obama said.
Last year, Alabama finished last in the competition.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says it's time to try new things and put old thinking aside.
"We can't be complacent. We have to be willing to do some things outside the box, and I would absolutely challenge Alabama to do that," Duncan said in a satellite interview with WSFA 12 News.
"I challenge the Secretary of Education -- if we do have 'Race to the Top'-- to put realistic criteria around it," said Dr. Joe Morton, Alabama's state school superintendent.
Morton says Alabama is trying, but looming financial troubles make it hard for school systems to adapt.
"If the state cuts and says, 'We can't give you everything we promised you,' then (school systems) are going to have to borrow to make ends meet," Morton said.
With 2012 funding looking bleak, school boards are caught in a balancing act as they try to keep the quality of education high.
"First and foremost, learning occurs when there's a great teacher in that classroom, and it takes money to do that," said Sally Howell, executive director of Alabama Association of School Boards.
To watch the full interview with Secretary Duncan, click here.