Brandon-Evansville Superintendent Don Peschel is seeking to pressure state legislators to increase funding for educating the youngest children.

“Our state’s going to have a surplus again,” he told a group of 16 educators, public health officials, business representatives and child care providers following the Thursday, Jan. 9 showing of a documentary about early childhood education. “Where’s that going to go?”

Last year, local lawmakers told him they would steer more money to educating the youngest children, but that never happened, Peschel said.

“Our governing forces have got to put in a commitment here,” he said. “If you don’t get to children early, it hamstrings them all the way through high school.”

Peschel made his comments after the group watched “No Small Matter,” about the need for society to invest in children at the earliest ages, when their brains develop at the fastest rates in their lives. The film has been shown three times in Alexandria and is making its way through the state as well as the country.

The 2018 film contends that early childhood is too crucial a time period to ignore, that early childhood teachers are critically underpaid, and that society needs to pour more resources into helping the littlest ones. If it doesn’t, it argues, America will end up paying more for remedial education, health costs and even incarceration.

In “No Small Matter,” military leaders cite a Pentagon report that 71 percent of Americans ages 17-24 are not fit to serve in the military. Partly that’s because of obesity, but lack of education is also a huge reason the Pentagon cites, as is criminal activity.

Kathy Reiber, a former school board member in another county, who also watched the film, called the Pentagon’s number “startling.”

“No Small Matter” was put together by Chicago production company Siskel/Jacobs Production of Chicago, which also produced the Emmy-winning “102 Minutes That Changed America,” about the 9/11 attacks.

It is being distributed by the West Central Initiative and a new group it hosts, called the Minnesota Prenatal to Three Coalition. Distribution in Minnesota is funded by the Kansas-based Alliance for Early Success, a national group that gets its support from foundations including those connected to Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett’s first wife, Susan, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and David and Lucile Packard, the founders of Hewlett-Packard.

It might be tempting to view babies as tiny humans who simply poop, spit up and eat. But starting about 35 years ago, technology made it possible to monitor the brain waves of babies and toddlers, revealing how quickly their brains grow and that they began learning from birth, the film says.

In the film, a researcher pokes out his tongue at a 42-minute-old baby who had never seen a tongue before. The baby pokes out its tongue back. The baby had never seen his own face, yet was able to connect with a human face.

“People have a tendency to think there’s nothing going on up there,” the film argues. “What’s going on up there is rocket science.”

One of those helping with the distribution of the film, Laura LaCroix-Dalluhn, coordinator of the

Minnesota Prenatal to Three Coalition, said the goal of showing the film is to focus attention on what families with small children are going through and to spur ideas about how to help.

Minnesota is in danger of losing millions of dollars it gets from the federal government because it is out of compliance with the Child Care Assistance Program, LaCroix-Dalluhn said. Minnesota does provide assistance to child care programs for low-income working families, but only at 25 percent of 2011 market rates; the program, LaCroix-Dalluhn said, requires the state to fund 75 percent of the 2018 market rates.

“That’s one of the top priorities for the state,” she said.

Minnesota is projecting a $1.3 billion budget surplus in 2020.

Families with the smallest children are the least able to pay for high-quality child care, and child care workers are so low-paid that it’s hard to keep them on the job even though they might be committed and passionate about working with children, she said.

“You can make more working at one of the grocery stores, and you get benefits,” she said. “The business model is just not working.”