LESA Opening Doors to Lutheran Christian Education

Brad Bunte had a bright future. A sports aficionado, whose knowledge of collegiate and professional sports trivia was rivaled by few his age, Brad was a broadcast journalism major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, covered women’s golf and swimming for the Daily Illini, and had co-hosted a sports talk show while in junior college. It was clear where he was headed and likely that we would be hearing his voice today calling a game, sharing an analysis, entertaining us.
Tragically, that dream was cut short when Brad was killed in a car accident in March 2011 at the age of 21. How do you reconcile the death of someone so young, so full of life and promise? For Brad’s family, it has come through redirecting their energy toward the futures of other children, making a way for them to experience the educational opportunities that Brad enjoyed. In 2014, the Bradley Bunte Scholarship Endowment Fund was established through YouthBridge and the Lutheran Elementary School Association (LESA) to offer needs-based tuition assistance to families seeking a Lutheran education for their child.

“Lutheran education meant a lot to Brad and his family, and so we carry on his legacy through this endowment fund, which has so far – with YouthBridge’s matching funds – provided funding each year in tuition assistance for families,” says Sue Nahmensen, CEO of LESA. Organized in 2004, LESA is a consortium of Lutheran schools in the St. Louis area offering financial resources for children to obtain a Lutheran Christian education and providing educational resources, professional development and best practices for school administrators and educators. The aim, says Nahmensen, is to help sustain and support high-quality Lutheran schools in the area, while improving accessibility.

“Lutheran education is truly special,” she says. “As small, independent schools, students receive special attention in Lutheran schools and families become part of a community developing successful students with strong moral character.” Known for rigorous academics along with a commitment to the Gospel, Nahmensen says that Lutheran schools routinely surpass public schools in student outcomes and standardized tests – a model that attracts outside of the denomination, with non Lutherans comprising nearly one-half of the student population.

During the pandemic, Nahmensen says the 34 member schools of LESA have seen a marked increase in enrollment inquiries from parents looking for an in-school learning option. Each of the schools is making decisions about the next school year independently, based on local health department guidelines, guidance by the American Academy of Pediatrics and results of parent surveys. “Some may choose virtual, but it’s evident that many parents believe in-person schooling is what’s best for their child and family.”

Increased enrollment, along with the economic impact of COVID, has led to a 49% rise in tuition assistance applications to LESA over last year. “Thanks to our donors rallying around us during these difficult times, we’ve been able to meet many of these requests, but not all yet,” says Nahmensen. “I expect we’ll be dealing with the repercussions of this crisis for awhile. I’m thankful that our community partners also can step in to help families struggling with tuition costs, and just so proud that we’ve been able to keep our commitment to opening the door to Lutheran education for more students every year.”

If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.