The American Lutheran Education Association was formed in 1961 by joining the Christian Day School Association from the eastern United States with the Lutheran Teachers Association from the western part of the country. ALEA was an association of congregations of the newly formed American Lutheran Church which operated Lutheran schools and/or preschools, beginning with 52 schools and 267 teachers instructing 5,104 pupils.

Don Vetter served as the Executive Secretary of the association from its beginning in 1961 until his retirement in 1989. His leadership of the Christian Day School ministry has been a powerful influence in church bodies, colleges, congregations and schools. Don passed away on January 12, 2002, and is remembered fondly by many in Lutheran schools' ministries. An annual award, The Donald A. Vetter Educational Service Award, was established in his name in 2004, honoring an individual each year who exemplifies the ideals he set forth in Lutheran education.

In 1988, with the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ALEA became the Evangelical Lutheran Education Association. With the retirement of Don Vetter, Glenn Bracht became the Interim Director of the ELEA. The offices moved from Wartburg College in Iowa to Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. While Dr. Bracht served as Director, the leadership of the association sought ways to better serve the regional needs of schools and early childhood centers across the United States. To this end, 14 regional networks were formed that replaced the Eastern Region and the Western Region of the Association. Representatives from each of these Networks were elected to meet as a National Board. In addition, Glenn Bracht, through a grant from the ELCA, published the first edition of Views & Vision.

In 1992, Julia Sieger became the Director of ELEA and the offices moved from Minneapolis to California. Dr. Sieger served until 1999. Under her leadership, a certification process was developed and more resources were created for Lutheran schools and early childhood centers.

In 1999, with the change in directorship of the association from Julia Sieger to Gayle Denny, the offices moved to Washington state, where they remained until 2004, when Ms. Denny and the national office moved to its present location in Goodyear, Arizona.