School teacher Liza Gleason shops for back to school supplies at a Target store in Daly City, California. - 

It's back to school season, which means, of course, shopping for school supplies. But it's no longer about pencil boxes and three ring binders. Many public schools today are asking kids to buy tablets and laptops for schoolwork for schoolwork.

How do parents navigate these costs?

"The first question is, do they actually need that technology for school?" asks Marketplace's personal finance guru, Paddy Hirsch. "You need to ascertain exactly what functions that laptop or that piece of technology needs to perform -- does it need word processing ability, does it need Powerpoint, does it need access to the internet -- and once you've got those kind of parameters, then you can think about your budget."

Hirsch says that if your family can't afford a piece of technology a school is requiring your student to buy, ask your district if there are any programs that offer financial assistance or subsidies. "If that doesn't exist, look around the internet," Hirsch says. "There are non-profit programs out there, like Computers For Kids, for example, or computer-loan programs like Accelerated Schools, which you can tap as well."

Follow Paddy Hirsch at @paddyhirsch